Beaminster landslip tunnel delay: Town 'running on empty'

South side of Beaminster Tunnel
Image caption Beaminster Tunnel has been closed since 7 July last year following a landslip which killed two people from Somerset
Senior site engineer Chris Williams holding a 3m (10ft) section of a soil nail
Image caption About 1,000 soil nails are being used to stabilise the slopes of the tunnel
Engineers carrying out soil nailing on the south side slopes of Beaminster Tunnel
Image caption The nails are being secured into the slopes in 3m (10ft) sections
South west corner of Beaminster Tunnel
Image caption Soil nails have proved unsuccessful during tests on the south west corner of the site which will now see a wire and stone wall built instead
Drainage works at the top of the slopes at Beaminster Tunnel
Image caption Drainage works are being carried out at the top of the slopes and the original drain under the road, which was built in 1932, has been replaced
North side of Beaminster Tunnel
Image caption Masonry repairs are also being undertaken on the north side of the tunnel where the fatal landslip occurred
View from the top of the south side of Beaminster Tunnel
Image caption The site sustained another slip in November last year on the south entrance to the tunnel which saw trees and vegetation fall

A Dorset town is "running on empty" according to some business owners, after the reopening of a tunnel where two people died in a landslip hit a further delay.

Rosemary Snell and Michael Rolfe, from Somerset, died almost a year ago when their car was buried at Beaminster Tunnel.

The structure, which forms part of the A3066 route, was closed while the council decided how to make it safe.

Some traders have reported falls in sales while residents have complained about the "extra miles and hassle" of diversions.

Cafe owner Ann Day said profits were down by up to 30% since the closure.

"The town is running on empty," she said.

Image caption Cafe owner Ann Day said her business has seen a 20-30% drop in sales since the tunnel closed

"We rely on passing trade and there is just no footfall to and from Somerset."

Debs Moxhay, of interior design shop Strummer Pink, agreed: "Trade is dreadfully down and the latest delay really is the final straw.

"The tunnel is the town's lifeline."

Dorset County Council had hoped stabilising work would see the route reopened last month.

But this had now slipped to late-July, partly because soil nailing work - driving long metal stakes into the ground - had been unsuccessful in one corner of the site because of waterlogging.

"Basically the nails can't grip in that particular area," said John Burridge, chief engineer.

He added the site had also been particularly challenging because it is not rock-based.

"Sand material is OK as long as it's dry and contained. When rain is added to it - which we saw a lot of over the spring - it almost flows like liquid," he said.

The authority said this problem, added to the steepness of the slopes, meant the site had been inaccessible to the workforce and machinery at times.

'Roads churned up'

Not all local people are gloomy about the delay.

Chris Dupuy, landlord of The Greyhound pub, said his business had not suffered.

"We're supported very well by the local community."

However, he added: "Obviously it's imperative that the tunnel is opened soon though, as we can only assume business would have been better had the tunnel been open."

Maggie Warnett, a Beaminster Festival organiser and president of the local Women's Institute believes the economy and wet weather would have affected trade in the town regardless of the closure of the 105m (345ft) tunnel.

She added: "It is a very unique situation and I believe the council is doing everything it can."

Resident Chris Jepps, 67, said diversions as a result of the tunnel's closure have been the biggest inconvenience.

"All the country roads which are being used to divert the traffic have simply become rat runs and are just getting churned up with pot holes," he said.

Private landowners

About 1,000 soil nails - each measuring up to 15m (50ft) - are being used to stabilise the slopes at the side of the tunnel during the repair work.

The council said 1m x 1m (3ft) wire baskets filled with stone - known as gabion baskets - will now be used to build an 18m-long (60ft), 2m-high (6.5ft) wall in the south-west section of the site where the nails have failed.

Image caption It is also thought the economy and wet weather could also have affected trade in the town

Mr Burridge said "complex negotiations" with one of the four private landowners were ongoing but added he was confident they would not affect the estimated reopening of the tunnel.

Principal engineer for Dorset County Council Matt Jones added: "It is very important that the work carried out here is done correctly.

"It can't be rushed because what happened can't happen again."

The council approved the works - which are expected to be effective for 120 years - in November, after engineers said soil pinning would reduce the likelihood of future slips.

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