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Stonehenge

Wednesday, 15 May 2019 10:30

Stonehenge Stonehenge Alliance

 

A303 STONEHENGE - LATEST NEWS - MAY 2019

Formal examination of Highways England’s A303 Stonehenge scheme has begun. For the latest information please view the Stonehenge Alliance website here.  

The Planning Inspectorate’s website gives details of the examination, including a timetable and document library. The Examination, by a panel of planning Inspectors (the Examining Authority) is mainly in writing with some issue-specific hearings in Salisbury which the public may attend. The Examination ends in October and, following the panel’s recommendation, a decision by the Transport Secretary is expected in 2020.

CPRE Wiltshire is a supporter of the Stonehenge Alliance which has submitted ten Written Representations to the Examination on topics including planning considerations, biodiversity, transport and economics, tranquillity, hydrogeology, and the historic environment. These have been placed on the Inspectorate’s website here (scroll down to documents REP-128 to REP-138). All Examination documents, including representations from other groups and individuals can be seen in the same location.

Please see below for background information about the A303 Scheme.

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 within the WHS 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 and evidence of a probable settlement of the same date. 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.50 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, re-joining the present A303 via the southern boundary of Parsonage Down National Nature Reserve.
Archaeological evaluation along the preferred route is unpublished, and geotechnical surveys are still ongoing. There would be local inconvenience during the c.5 years of construction and afterwards at times of tunnel closure.

Hydrogeology
Work undertaken to date has revealed more information about the presence of fractured and fissured phosphatic ‘soft’ chalk, and a fluctuating water table which can reach the surface at times. These factors give rise to serious concerns about tunnel construction impacts with hints in Highways England’s application documentation of possible alterations to groundwater flow and potential damage to archaeology owing to vibrations from tunnel boring.

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.
The capital cost of the scheme was set by HMG in September 2017 at an upper limit of £1.6bn and is now estimated to be £1.7bn. (Estimated cost was £1.3bn in December 2014). Annual tunnel maintenance costs would be c.£7m. PF2 was to be sought but this form of financing has now been ruled out by the Chancellor. Economic assessment conclusions in Highways England’s application show the scheme to be low value for money with the inclusion of the so-called heritage ‘benefits’ of the tunnel; otherwise it would be poor 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 and/or substantially revised.

Further information

Highways England has produced a new booklet on the A303 Stonehenge scheme.

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.

A video, introduced by historian Tom Holland, shows leading British Neolithic archaeologist Professor Mike Parker Pearson explaining why the road scheme would damage the WHS.

The 300+ scheme documents can be accessed on the Inspectorate’s website here

The Stonehenge Alliance's responses to consultations are here.

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

 

 

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