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THE STONEHENGE LANDSCAPE - LATEST NEWS! 

On 12 September the Department for Transport announced its ‘preferred route’ for widening the A303 at Stonehenge.  

LATEST NEWS

With complete disregard for UNESCO’s recent advice to reconsider options for the project, the current proposals involve a c.2.9km bored tunnel which runs more or less alongside the present A303. 

The east tunnel entrances would be in the position consulted upon earlier this year, within the ‘Nile Clumps’, and close to the ancient Avenue and threatening its integrity and that of the nearby Mesolithic site of Blick Mead. The west tunnel portals would lie not far south of the present road, in the vicinity of Normanton Gorse wood. Thence the new 4-lane highway would pass under the A360 to become a northern bypass for Winterbourne Stoke. It appears that the tunnel portals at both ends would avoid National Trust land. No details have been given of the grade separated junctions required at the east and west boundaries of the WHS but these, together with their lighting, signage and slip roads, would have a major impact on the setting of the WHS.

Archaeological evaluation from the revised west portal location to the A360 has only just begun, although some work on this corridor was undertaken for the tunnel scheme that went to Public Inquiry in 2004. The now proposed west tunnel portals would sit within a unique Bronze Age barrow cemetery: the principal scheduled monument surrounded by secondary burials. The new highway would pass close to the ‘Wilsford Shaft’,  a 30m-deep fissure in the chalk  apparently used for ritual purposes or as a well (or both) throughout the Bronze Age,  and possibly also during the Neolithic.  This area of the WHS is also significant for its unique grouping of Neolithic long barrows located around the head of a dry valley, most familiar of which is the upstanding monument after which Longbarrow Roundabout is named.  Already crossed by the A303, the physical division of this focal area of the pre-henge use of the landscape would be made far greater with a new 4-lane highway-cutting slicing through the ground between the northernmost of these long barrows, interrupting the integrity of their placement and original purpose. Geophysical survey work currently under way is likely to reveal more of interest in this hitherto largely uninvestigated area.

A recently-published account of the geology of the WHS, using data obtained for the Highways Agency in connection with the previous A303 tunnelling scheme, has revealed more information about the presence of phosphatic ‘soft’ chalk, a fluctuating water table which can reach the surface and the presence of radon. All of these factors give rise to concern which may be compounded following the outcome of more recent coring and further investigations to be undertaken.

Highways England advises that formal consultation on the road scheme may begin next February. Between now and then another joint UNESCO World Heritage Centre/International Council on Monuments and Sites advisory mission will visit Stonehenge to advise the Government on the way ahead. In view of the Government’s unfortunate reaction to UNESCO’s recent advice, we may see Stonehenge placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018 unless the scheme is halted for review.

Earlier News

On 6 July 2017, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, in a report and decision, formally asked the UK Government to reconsider the A303 Stonehenge scheme. The Committee urged the Government to “explore further options with a view to avoiding impacts on the OUV [outstanding universal value] of the property”, including a southern bypass of the World Heritage Site (WHS) and “longer tunnel options to remove dual carriageways and cuttings from the property.”  

The Government was also asked to submit a report to the World Heritage Centre on the implementation of its advice by 1 February 2018.  It remains to be seen how the UK Government will respond to UNESCO’s advice, bearing in mind that Highways England plans to announce its “preferred route” later this year. 

A more detailed report by UNESCO's Advisory Mission to Stonehenge earlier this year makes it clear that heritage impact assessment for the WHS should comply with the 

“specific obligations of the State Party under the World Heritage Convention. In particular it should be noted that benefits arising from changes to some parts of the property cannot outweigh negative impacts on OUV arising from impacts elsewhere.” 

 

This is very much in tune with the stance CPRE has consistently taken over the years.

Highways England’s consultation on dualling the A303 from Amesbury to Berwick Down ended on 5 March 2017. A 1.8mile (2.9km) tunnel would go under part of the World Heritage Site (WHS). Beyond the tunnel cuttings and portals would be new 4-lane highway well within the archaeological landscape of the WHS, continuing with options for a northern or southern bypass for Winterbourne Stoke. Apart from damage to archaeology and landscape, there would be serious impacts on wildlife and the water environment.

For more information, please see here.

Both CPRE Wiltshire's and CPRE South West's responses to the consultation can be downloaded from the links at the bottom of this page.

Wiltshire Branch CPRE is a supporter of the Stonehenge Alliance’s campaign to protect this World Heritage Site. See campaign leaflet and map .  See also Highways England's proposals map either by download or in the Image Gallery, both at the bottom of this page.

For information about the Stonehenge Alliance, see here.

Please consider signing the Stonehenge Alliance’s petition here.

The threat to the Stonehenge WHS.

In December 2014 the Government announced a tranche of improvements to the A303 Trunk road with the aim of improving traffic flow and economic development in the South West. Funding has been earmarked to upgrade the road to dual carriageway between Amesbury and Berwick Down, to include a 1.8 mile tunnel near (but not under) the Stonehenge monument. 

The WHS is, however, some 3.4 miles across. The massive engineering works would leave two pairs of twin tunnel portals in deep cuttings, along with new 4-lane highway, well inside an archaeological landscape designated by UNESCO as of outstanding universal value to mankind.  On the eastern and western boundaries of the WHS there would be grade separated junctions. These works would cause irreparable visual and physical damage to the landscape, its archaeology and its setting, in the face of planning policy and the World Heritage Convention.

What CPRE is doing about the situation

CPRE Wiltshire, supported by National CPRE, has joined forces to form the Stonehenge Alliance, a group of NGOs demanding a better outcome for the WHS. We do not argue for a specific solution to the part-time congestion at Stonehenge (mainly at weekends and holiday periods) but that whatever might be considered necessary should do no further damage to the WHS. Thus, any tunnel would need to be long enough to achieve that aim. Meanwhile, we are asking for measures to prevent rat-running though local villages and to change drivers’ habits so that they consider travelling at less busy times.

We are not opposed to a bypass for Winterbourne Stoke but,since it is an integral part of the overall scheme, we do not propose to state a view on this aspect of the scheme at present.

It appears that the scheme, including the Winterbourne Stoke bypass options, would seriously threaten wildlife, including protected species, and the water environment of the River Avon and its tributary, the Till, designated a Special Area of Conservation and also protected by law.

The Stonehenge Campaign has been reported in CPRE Wiltshire’s Newsletters from time to time. 

The Stonehenge Alliance

The Stonehenge Alliance seeks enhancement of the Stonehenge part of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites World Heritage Site (WHS) and to protect it from development that would harm it. 

The supporter organisations of the Alliance are: CPRE, Ancient Sacred Landscape Network, Campaign for Better Transport, Friends of the Earth and Rescue: The British Archaeological Trust. The Chairman of the Alliance is George McDonic, MBE, former Chairman and now Vice-President of CPRE Wiltshire Branch.

More information about the Stonehenge Alliance, what it is campaigning for, and the latest blogs can be seen here and on the Stonehenge Alliance Website where there are links to the Alliance’s Facebook page and Twitter. 

The Alliance has set up national and global petitions asking for no further damage to the WHS. 

Alliance President Tom Holland has produced a short film on his views about the tunnel.  Sir Tony Robinson and others speak on another short video produced prior to the end of the recent consultation at Highways England’s London event at Burlington House.

Please see the Alliance’s website for correspondence with Ministers and other authorities. 

A 2014 article in the Ecologist gives an overview of the Stonehenge road issue.

 

 

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