Will £26m M4 tunnel cause wildlife issues?

Work is close to starting on building a £26m tunnel from the new development at Wichelstowe under the M4.

The project aims to help create 2,000 jobs by freeing up land earmarked for new businesses close to the 4,500-home development.

The underpass will join roads from Wichelstowe to those south of the motorway in the far south west corner of the site.

The Deanery Academy secondary school hosted a display of the plans yesterday.

Officers from Swindon Borough Council’s highways department, and staff from the council’s contractor Alun Griffiths were in the cafe of the school to show plans and answer questions.

One visitor to the exhibition Richard Parry said: “It’s a massive job. They told me that the motorway will stay open nearly every day and there will be some disruption but it won’t be shut for a long time.

“That’s quite impressive if they manage to do it without terrible traffic.”

Other visitors to the site were concerned about wildlife – the new road from the village centre to the underpass will run through green fields and areas of small woodlands.

One said: “What are you doing for the wildlife that will be affected?”

Senior project manager for Alun Griffiths Roger Walker said: “There is an area set aside in the north of the site for wildlife. Any animals we find or disturb will be moved there and there’s a special fence to prevent reptiles from getting back to where we’re working so they stay safe.”

Tim Mann is the programme manager for the highways department. He said: “It’s been quite busy, there’s a lot of interest in where it’s going to go and what’s going to happen.”

The underpass must be built as the planning permission for the whole Wichelstowe development is conditional on it being there.

A new roundabout will be constructed south of the motorway joining the southern access road to Hay Lane heading south and Wharf Road towards Wroughton and an access to junction 16 of the M4.

With work starting soon, it is expected that the whole project will be completed in mid 2021. Staff will be on hand in the cafe next to the reception at the Deanery Academy again on Tuesday between 3pm and 7pm.

In 2020 during construction, the section of the M4 will have a 50mph limit and narrowed lanes but the council has confirmed three lanes will be kept on both sides. Restrictions will be in place for 10 months.