2024 could finally be the year that work begins on building a bypass first proposed in 1927 around the Somerset village of Banwell where constant traffic makes life “a living hell.”

The small village on the edge of the Mendip Hills is often said to have traffic worse than London. Two A-roads funnel heavy traffic travelling to and from Weston-super-Mare through Banwell’s narrow streets which at one point — nicknamed “the narrows” by locals — are only wide enough for one vehicle at a time.

The constant congestion this causes has plagued the village for more than 250 years. The village cross was moved out of the village square in 1754 — and later removed altogether — as it “incommoded the traffic.” In the 1960s, the village had to suffer a whole row of shops and houses being demolished to widen the road, and the loss of the shape of the historic village square — which is now a cramped junction.

But traffic is still so bad in the village that parents in the village say they have been told that the zebra crossing outside the primary school is “too dangerous” for a lollipop lady. Meanwhile, children cross the road every day, peering around queueing cars stopped around the crossing in one direction and dodging speeding drivers who can’t see them from the other.

Banwell mum-of-three Rebecca Robinson addressed North Somerset Council over the issue in November, telling them: “In Banwell it is normal to be clipped by vehicles and almost run over on the zebra crossing while doing a school run, and that is fundamentally and morally wrong.”

She said: “It is an absolute miracle a child has not been killed.”

Just up the road on what was once the village square, pub landlord Carmino Dagostino has to live with drivers crashing into the Bell Inn, knocking into his pub sign and outdoor lamps. But the traffic has hit his business in more ways than one. At a protest in March calling for the bypass to be built, he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We can’t open in the day because there’s too many lorries and cars on the pavements, so people are too afraid to use the pavement.”

Banwell local Lloyd Morrison said: “We fear for our kids walking to catch the bus for school with cars flying up narrow roads trying to make up time, which is the case now even on weekends due to the ever increasing traffic flow with all these new housing developments.”

He said: “We are all sick of the traffic which seems to be getting worse every year — the rest of the village is a rat run!”

Steve Voller who heads the “build our bypass” campaign in the village has told councillors that residents find life in the village “a living hell” due to “traffic pollution, traffic noise, and the ever-present danger of vehicles mounting narrow footpaths.”

Building a bypass around Banwell has been discussed as a solution for almost a century and is finally close to becoming a reality, with 2023 seeing North Somerset Council approve planning permission and hire a contractor to build the thing. They hope to get spades in the ground in May.

But the plans have caused a battle between Banwell and its neighbouring villages who fear it will pass the traffic problems along to them — with the parish council of nearby Churchill writing to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in 2022 to urge him to block the plan. The compulsory purchase orders needed to secure the land for the bypass were also the subject of a three-week public inquiry held on Weston-super-Mare’s Grand Pier — the outcome of which had been expected by Christmas.

All the time, the cost of the scheme has been rising. The initial £66m price tag for the scheme was going to be fully funded by a grant from Homes England, who need the bypass in place in order for more homes to be built in the Weston villages. But the rampant inflation which has gone on while the scheme was being agreed saw the costs skyrocket by another £24m.

In July, councillors on North Somerset Council unanimously approved a move to split the difference with Homes England to keep the scheme afloat and put £12m of the council’s own money into the scheme. But Conservative opposition leader on the council Nigel Aston warned at the meeting: “We are almost in a position where we can’t afford not to do it and we can’t afford to carry on.”

Despite the soaring costs, the bypass still has strong support in the village. Mr Morrison said he thought the high costs would come down soon. He said: “All trades are slowing down. These kinds of projects will help keep things going for construction and haulage firms in the area, as next year is looking rather grim.

“So it’s very much a win for the locals, motorists and the economy.”

Mr Voller added: “The figures still show it has a good return on investment so it’ll be money well spent.”

But for many, the main concern is not the cost. A “new village” of 2,800 homes is planned just up the road from Banwell at Wolvershill — as part of a massive wave of housebuilding in the North Somerset countryside east of Weston-super-Mare. The development has been described as “dependent” on the bypass by the North Somerset Council’s lawyers at the public inquiry.

John Hutson, who has lived on the edge of Banwell for 28 years, said that the new homes would mean Banwell “won’t be a little village any more.” He added: “It may as well be called Ban-Worle.”

But Mr Morrison said that he was not concerned about the road giving the “green light” to more housing developments. He said: “Let’s face it, bad road networks won’t stop them coming — it hasn’t so far ! I think we want them to get a move on, and get the thing done.”

Mr Hutson is also more sceptical of the planned bypass. He said: “It’s a route which 50 years ago or maybe 40 years ago would have been fantastic.”

But he warned that, with more housing built locally since, in order for the bypass not to pass the traffic along to other villages it would need to go all the way to the A38 — three villages away. He added: “They have chosen to go ahead with it and its a mistake.”

The plans will also impact local landowners whose land is being acquired through compulsory purchase to make way for the scheme, with some standing to lose all of their land .

One local landowner said they were in favour of the bypass and that it was much needed but they were concerned about the impact on their land. Currently, a public footpath runs through their smallholding which would be upgraded to a hard-surfaced bridleway as a part of the wider aspects of the bypass scheme.

The landowner said they supported hard-surfacing the footpath so it could be a safe route for walkers and people with wheelchairs, as it currently gets too muddy, but they were concerned about the plans to turn it into a bridleway, warning that this could send people on bikes and scooters across their land people ought to be vigilant of animals or machinery.

They said: “The upgrade they want to impose will cut our property in half and devalue it.”

As compulsory purchase orders are being used to acquire the land, they warned that they had little influence over the impacts on their land and their livelihood. An outcome from the inquiry into the compulsory purchase orders had been expected by Christmas but — as of the time of writing on the Winter solstice — the final decision has not yet been announced.

Whatever the final details of the decision are when it comes, the building of the bypass seems like it is finally set to happen. The political will in favour of the bypass on North Somerset Council has seen the planning permission, contract award, and even the stumping up of an additional £12m all approved unanimously.

If work starts in 2024 on the now £90m bypass, then the scheme would be on track for completion in 2026 — a year short of a century since it was first proposed. But until then, people in Banwell will still have to deal with dangerous roads, frustrated drivers, and near-constant congestion every day.

Mr Voller said: “I was thinking this morning, walking along West Street looking at the queue trying to get through the narrows, that Santa with his sleigh is the only one who doesn’t need a bypass.”