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Wednesday, 12 September 2018 12:31

Stonehenge Stonehenge Alliance

 

A303 STONEHENGE - LATEST NEWS - SEPTEMBER 2018

Highways England’s public consultations on proposals for the A303 Stonehenge Expressway ‘preferred route’ have ended.

CPRE Wiltshire, both as a supporter of the Stonehenge Alliance and as an individual organisation, responded to all three consultations.  

Our stance, based on the planning policy framework that exists for the county and the World Heritage Site (WHS), has not changed. Our last two consultation responses, along with that of CPRE South West, can be downloaded as PDF files below.

The ‘preferred route’ proposals and their implications

 

The A303 preferred route, including a c.3km (c.1.8 miles) tunnel, was announced in September 2017. Both tunnel portals would avoid National Trust land. The east tunnel entrances would sit within a Bronze Age barrow group and the ‘Nile Clumps’, threatening the integrity of the ancient Avenue and its enjoyment by visitors. The nearby Mesolithic site of Blick Mead would be dominated by a massive flyover, which would also impact adversely on Amesbury Abbey (Grade I Listed) and its Registered Park, as well as the Amesbury Conservation Area.

The west tunnel portals would lie south of the present A303, near Normanton Gorse wood and not far from an RSPB Reserve, noted for rare stone curlews. Thence the new 4-lane highway would continue in a deep cutting and below a major A360 interchange just outside the boundary of the World Heritage Site (WHS) involving two roundabouts with slip roads and a bridge over the A303 between them. The cutting would pass close beside the enigmatic ‘Wilsford Shaft’, apparently used for ritual purposes or as a well (or both) throughout the Bronze Age, and possibly also during the Neolithic. Evaluation work in advance of the expressway has uncovered a Late Neolithic inhumation burial in this area. This part of the WHS is also significant for its unique grouping of Neolithic long barrows located around the head of a dry valley, including 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 c.26 yards-wide highway-cutting between the northernmost of these long barrows, interrupting the integrity of their placement and original purpose. The scheme would impact adversely on the setting of the WHS and key archaeological sites within it; and could destroy as yet unidentified archaeological remains.

The new, dualled A303 would continue, with a bridge over the River Till, as a northern bypass for Winterbourne Stoke, rejoining the present A303 via the southern boundary of Parsonage Down National Nature Reserve.

Archaeological evaluation along the preferred route is incomplete, as are the geotechnical surveys and assessments of various impacts on the environment, such as noise and air pollution. These details will be revealed at a later stage, presumably when the application for the Development Consent Order is made by Highways England, later this year. There would be local inconvenience during the c.5 years of construction and afterwards at times of tunnel closure.

Hydrogeology
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 and a fluctuating water table which can reach the surface at times. These factors give rise to concerns which may be compounded following the outcome of further investigations to be undertaken.

Aspirations and economics

There are doubts about the aspirations for and value-for-money of the scheme.

Local people hope to be rid of traffic congestion and concomitant rat-running at busy times. Any improvement to traffic flow would, however, be temporary since it is acknowledged that road widening induces more traffic. See, e.g., a 2017 CPRE publication on the subject (reference below), which also demonstrates that widened roads rarely bring hoped-for economic benefits and increased housing to a region away from the road corridor.

Capital cost of the scheme was set by HMG in September 2017 at an upper limit of £1.6bn. (Estimated cost was £1.3bn in December 2014). Annual tunnel maintenance costs would be c.£7m. PF2 is sought but a June 2018 Public Accounts Committee report has cast doubt on PF2 providing value for money. Economic assessment conclusions in Highways England’s Scheme Assessment Report (September 2017) show the scheme is likely to be low–medium value for money with the inclusion of the so-called heritage ‘benefits’ of the tunnel; otherwise it would be low value for money.

International concern continues

It is of particular concern that UNESCO has condemned the road scheme. In July 2017 and again in July 2018, its World Heritage Committee advised the Government to explore options for the A303 scheme that would not damage the WHS or its outstanding universal value. In view of the Government’s continuing disregard of UNESCO’s advice, we may see Stonehenge placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, unless the scheme is halted.

Further information

Documentation on the scheme and its timetable can be accessed on Highways England’s website.

Up to date information on the A303 scheme can be followed on the Stonehenge Alliance website, where a briefing covers the issues mentioned above and more.

An independently-produced video explaining why the road scheme would damage the WHS can be viewed here.

Stonehenge Alliance's responses to Highways England's consultations can be viewed here.

Highways England's supplementary consultation brochure is here

A CPRE publication, "The End of the Road? Challenging the Road Building Consensus" can be read here .

 

 

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