The do-it-yourself toll road

Infrastructure construction is not the sort of thing you’d normally associate with entrepreneurs. I mean no one would actually wake up one morning and decide, for example, to build their own toll road. Would they? Well, Mike Watts did.

Watts, a resident of Kelston near Bath in the English county of Somerset, was frustrated by landslip work being undertaken on the A431 which meant his journey time into Bath – via a detour – had increased from eight minutes to an hour.

Actually, it sounds as if it may have been his wife who was most frustrated. “She was shouting at me and asking me when something was going to get done,” Watts told BBC News.

Watts’ solution to his domestic discontent was to rent part of a nearby field from a landowner and put down tarmac and loose gravel to build an (admittedly rather basic) 400-metre stretch of road bypassing the damaged part of the highway.

Watts then began charging £2 (€2.50; $3.20) for cars and £1 for motorbikes to use his road, which opened in August. Given his total outlay of £300,000, he estimates that if 1,000 cars per day use the road it will enable him to recoup his investment. “I’m pretty confident we’ll achieve that,” he said, although traffic in the early days was about half of that target.

There has been speculation that Watts’ actions may prompt the local council to move a little faster on their A431 repairs – which are scheduled to complete by the end of the year. However, this would be a qualified success for Watts since it would give him less time to get back his money. He insists that the toll road will be returned to agricultural use once the A431 is fully reopened.

For its part, the council appears to be relatively accommodating to the unusual development. “We’re delighted that [Mr Watts] is now putting in a retrospective planning application,” said leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, Paul Crossley. “We haven’t not supported it. What we’ve asked for is the operating plans, the health and safety conditions.”

But his delight is nothing compared with that of Watts and his wife. Apparently, “she’s a very happy lady now and isn’t shouting at me.”