A KEY route for holidaymakers heading to west Somerset cannot be upgraded with central government money because it is not deemed to be nationally significant.

The A39 connects the M5 motorway near Bridgwater with the Quantock Hills, the west Somerset coast, the Butlins holiday resort in Minehead and the Exmoor National Park.

Somerset County Council has been working with other local authorities in the south west on proposals to improve the region’s road network to support new housing, attract investment and improve tourists’ journey times.

But as the deadline for submitting these proposals rapidly approaches, the A39 is not being included because not enough people currently use the road for it to be deemed a key route.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has allocated £3.5bn towards major improvements to local roads between now and 2025.

Local authorities have been asked to submit proposals by the summer for two types of schemes – improvements to the Major Road Network (MRNs – routes which are deemed nationally significant) and Large Local Major schemes (LLMs – roads which deliver substantial local benefits).

The MRN schemes can cost between £20M and £50M, while the LLMs must cost over £50M to be considered – with local authorities being expected to stump up 15 per cent of the cost in each case.

If a scheme in either category is approved, construction must be completed by 2025.

Mike O’Dowd-Jones, the council’s strategic commissioning manager for highways and transport, explained the situation in a written report to the Minehead area panel on Wednesday evening (June 26).

He said: “The MRN network does not include the A39 in west Somerset, so that road is therefore not eligible for MRN schemes.

“In 2018 Somerset County Council and other local authorities did strongly request that the A39 in west Somerset be included on the network, but the DfT did not include it as there was not enough traffic using the road to meet their criteria.”

While the A39 would be eligible for upgrading under a LLM scheme, Mr O’Dowd-Jones said the council did not have the resources to bring forward a complete business case this year.

He said: “Initial options, feasibility design, costing and quantification of economic benefits would need to be undertaken to support a submission this summer.

“Such schemes would also need to demonstrate considerable economic benefits requiring large traffic volumes and unlocking new development areas.

“We do not have sufficient funds to develop the business cases required for these schemes, so any development work needs to be funded by district councils.”

A final list of the schemes that will be submitted to the government will be agreed by the Peninsula Transport Shadow Sub-National Transport Body, which is made up of representatives from councils in Somerset, Devon, Plymouth, Torbay and Cornwall.

The list – which includes upgrading the A361 near Glastonbury – will be discussed by the body at a meeting at Devon County Council’s Exeter headquarters on Wednesday morning (July 3).