A QUICK look at the map shows why planners who gave the go ahead to the huge housing development at Wichelstowe insisted on a road that would give access to the south.

And that means it has to go under the M4.

The triangular shape of the development site on the southern edge of the town is bordered by one of the country’s business and fastest roads.

A railway line that runs along the site’s north west boundary separates it from Toothill. Without the new road, access to the south for the residents who will live in Wichelstowe’s 4,500 houses would be through Blagrove industrial estate, which has one two-lane spine road towards the M4's junction 16, or through East Wichel to Croft Road which leads to Wroughton.

As work begins on the houses by the canal in the centre of the development, work is starting on the access road – and it's a major project costing around £26 million.

The M4 underpass will carry a road through the new estate to the south, where a new roundabout will be constructed. This will give access to Wharf Road to Wroughton, Hay Lane directly south and also a road to junction 16 of the M4.

Just under £23m for the scheme will be funded by central government through the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the rest of the money put forward by Swindon Borough Council. Work is expected to be finished in the spring of 2021.

Cabinet member for strategic planning Gary Sumner said: “This project has been funded and designed to be for the people who live in the new development in Wichelstowe, but it will have benefits elsewhere.

“It is not intended to be a bypass for Old Town, but it will take traffic away from Old Town as it offers another attractive route to the south for Swindon people.”

On a wider scale, Coun Sumner stressed it was important to ensure that areas of expansion had the necessary roads and infrastructure early.

He said: “The people of Swindon would complain soon enough if the houses were built and the roads to serve them weren’t there. That’s why it’s important to have the roads put in before the houses are built.”

Visitors to the council’s public exhibition at The Deanery Academy, which is also being held today (October 22) were impressed but also had concerns.

David Smith, 72, lives in Wroughton. He said: “This development is a long way behind the original schedule and I really wish they’d get on with it.

“I’m concerned that before it’s all built, before all the roads are in place the traffic will have an unfortunate effect on Wroughton, I think it’ll be pushed over there.

“When it’s all finished it might work very well.”

Ray Thomas is worried that more should be done to ease congestion and air pollution in the Old Town area.

He said: “There is a need for a good connection from the M4 to the new estate and centre. This is needed to help the development and is vital

“My other wish is to connect junction 16 to the town by the Croft Road – Wroughton junction, to ease pollution and congestion down Devizes Road, Kings Hill and Royal Wootton Bassett Road.

“But the engineers want to deter access to Croft Road and Wroughton for junction 16 traffic, they want to deter a rat run from Croft Road. I think it is naive to think you can deter it.”

The planners said: “The main function of the Southern Access road is to provide access to Wichelstowe and it is not designed as a relief road or expected to attract large volumes of through traffic. The road will be a standard two-way 30mph link.”

It appears the road is a selling point for people thinking about moving to a house in Wichelstowe when they’re completed.

Emma Leake is the development co-ordinator for the joint venture between the borough council and the developers.

She said: “People do ask about it, and ask when it’ll be there.

“I think it is a selling point for the development. And it’s also got a separate pedestrian and cycle path, so that’s another point, you can be out in the countryside south of the motorway very easily, without having to try and get across the junction.”

The exhibition is at The Deanery on October 22 between 3-7pm.

Taking care of wildlife

A NUMBER of visitors to the public exhibition about the Southern Access road at the Deanery Academy were concerned about how wildlife in the area would be handled.

Cathy Taylor said: “I do think this will be horrendous. I live in Toothill and I walk my dog across the fields where the road will run every day.

“I see roe deer and muntjac deer there towards the woods nearly every day, and I worry that they’re going to be isolated and cut off.

“It’ll be much more difficult to walk as well.”

Roger Walker, the project manager for contractor Alun Griffiths Construction Ltd, said there was a lot being done already.

He said badgers were known to inhabit the north west of the site near the border with the railway line. “There’s badgers up there and we don’t want them coming down to where we are working," he said.

To the north of the triangular site near the still-to-be-constructed access road is a patch of green designated as a wildlife refuge.

Mr Taylor said: “Great crested newts have been relocated under licence. We’ve got a badger licence so we can move the badgers, and we’ve moved bats as well.”

He added that the fence around the compound was specially designed to prevent even small animals such as reptiles and amphibians from coming to harm at the roadworks.

The plans show that when the whole Wichelstowe development is completed the wildlife area will be kept as open space with areas off grass, woodland and ponds.

How to tunnel under the M4

The M4 will be moved but not shut – at least not for long – to allow the construction of the underpass from Wichelstowe to the south.

Mr Walker said the tunnel will be built in two stages.

He said: “The first thing is to construct a temporary embankment on either side of the motorway where the underpass is to be built.

“Then the route of the highway will be moved. We are starting on the north side, so the six lanes of traffic will be moved south onto the embankment. Then we’ll start putting in the pilings on the north side and construct half of the underpass.”

When that is completed the traffic will be moved northwards to run over what is essentially a new bridge, and the southern half of the structure will be completed.

Mr Walker said: “There will be some temporary closures overnight and at some weekends, mainly when we’re moving the carriageways. And they’ll be narrow lanes with a temporary restriction to 50mph.

“But come Monday mornings drivers will find that there’s three lanes of traffic in both directions, so there shouldn’t be too much disruption.”

Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for strategic planning Gary Sumner said: “This will be a complex project and a real feat of engineering to effectively move the M4 motorway, allowing us to put our new road underneath the existing carriageway. And our contractor will do this by keeping all motorway lanes open, utilising a temporary speed limit.”