Stonehenge A303 scheme, June 2018

Below, on behalf of the Stonehenge Alliance [1] which campaigns to prevent further damage to the World Heritage Site (WHS) is a summary of urgent concerns about the Government’s proposal to widen the A303 in the Stonehenge WHS.  People from all backgrounds and professions from over 100 countries are following our campaign.


Heritage: Potential damage and loss of World Heritage status

“World Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage Sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.” UNESCO

Stonehenge and Avebury WHS is a “complex of monuments that provide an exceptional insight into the funerary and ceremonial practices in Britain in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Together with their settings and associated sites, they form landscapes without parallel.” Outstanding Universal Value Criterion iii. [2]

Map showing key archaeological monuments, the tunnel, location of proposed Expressway and National Trust land. We wish to acknowledge the generous support by Amesbury Museum and Heritage trust for this schematic map, based on Highways England proposal, 2018.

Highways England’s preferred route would upgrade the A303 to Expressway standard with a short c.3km tunnel with twin portals in deep dual-carriageway cuttings, all within the WHS, and two grade separated junctions on its boundaries.

Cutting exiting the western tunnel portal. Source: Highways England video February 2018

These works would, physically and visually, severely compromise the Stonehenge archaeological landscape and its setting. They would inflict loss and permanent damage to our country’s most outstanding prehistoric and highly sensitive landscape.

Visualisation of new double Longbarrow Junction. Highways England Consultation, 2018.

Such damage would conflict with the government’s commitments under the World Heritage Convention [2] Article 4 of which reads:

“Each State Party to this Convention recognizes that the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage referred to in Articles 1 and 2 situated on its territory [its designated World Heritage Sites], belongs primarily to that State. It will do all it can to this end, to the utmost of its own resources and, where appropriate, with any international assistance and cooperation, in particular financial, artistic, scientific and technical, which it may be able to obtain.”

The support of Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust for this Government-led scheme is based on improvements to the central part of the WHS only with scant regard to the World Heritage Convention. Their support also ignores:

“It is not considered satisfactory to suggest that the benefits from a 2.9km tunnel to the centre of the property can offset significant damage from lengths of four lane approach roads in cuttings elsewhere in the property.”

Eastern section from Countess roundabout. Amesbury Abbey grounds and Blick Mead archaeological site to the left. Source: Highways England video February 2018

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre has now published its report and recommendations (p35) to the 2018 World Heritage Committee and reiterated its earlier views, recommending scheme options that do not involve damage to the WHS. [5]

Should the World Heritage Centre’s views continue to be disregarded, there is a possibility that the WHS will be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, bringing international disgrace in association with such a famous WHS [6].

Options for tunnel portals. Highways England consultation 2018.

The UK Government continues to nominate new WHSs. For example, last year it successfully nominated the Lake District, this year it is nominating Jodrell Bank.

Question: Will the UK Government continue to allow the protection of our World Heritage Sites to be compromised?

Economy: Justifications for widening the A303 at Stonehenge

The budget for the A303 tunnel and surface roads scheme by Stonehenge has risen to £1.6bn. In addition, the cost of tunnel maintenance was estimated at £7m p.a. in 2017 [7].

Two justifications for the road-widening scheme are frequently quoted. The first is tourism. Supporters of the scheme say that the tunnel scheme would result in an ‘overall benefit’ to the WHS and ‘unite the landscape’, visually removing the traffic near the Stonehenge monument and its immediate setting. This might improve the vista for tourists at the Stones, but as UNESCO states, this cannot be achieved without unacceptable damage elsewhere. Motorists’ valued view of the Stones from the A303 would also be lost.

Second is the economic benefits to the South West of England. Demands for the A303 Expressway were made, and supported, by unelected regional Local Enterprise Partnerships and the CBI. No substantive data or evidence to support the claim that this investment would enhance the regional economy by reducing journey times has been seen.

Furthermore, Highways England has stated [8] that the scheme’s value for money, even with its monetised ‘benefit’ of the damaging tunnel, would be low to medium.

Clearly the decision in December 2014 to press ahead for an Expressway to the South West and widen the A303 at Stonehenge shortly before the 2015 General Election appears to have been politically motivated.

Traffic: Key facts in relation to the A303 at Stonehenge 

Dualling the A303 as an alternative route to the M4/M5 is a long-held ambition by Government. The justifications claimed for road widening at Stonehenge, however, are not strong and need deeper scrutiny. Department for Transport Average Annual Daily Flow (AADF) traffic figures for 2016 past Stonehenge are lower than in 2004 when an earlier Stonehenge tunnel scheme was brought forward on heritage grounds. At the time the then Highways Agency admitted that the scheme could not to be justified on road traffic grounds.

Stonehenge is a bottleneck at weekends and holiday times when rat running occurs through local villages, but the widened road could be counterproductive for villagers, bringing even more traffic which, when traffic incidents and tunnel closures occur, could divert through villages and local roads causing a worse situation than at present.

Congestion is a national problem and Stonehenge is but one of numerous bottlenecks. Congestion maps reveal lengthier and more frequent congestion in other parts of the country. This suggests that dealing with local congestion and its causes would make better use of limited public resources. Alternatives, such as the rail investment programme outlined by the Peninsula Rail Task Force [9] ought to be considered, whilst smart measures to discourage road use at busy times, improve traffic flow and prevent rat running could be implemented straight away at relatively little cost provided the local Highway Authority (Wiltshire Council) and Highways England were properly resourced to work together.

The geology of Stonehenge is particularly complex and the cost of jeopardising the WHS and it’s designation with a short c.3km tunnel has already escalated to £1.6bn. This could increase considerably by 2021 when construction of the Expressway is scheduled to start. Should road widening still be considered, adequate resources must be found to ensure that there is no further damage to the landscape and setting of the Stonehenge WHS, to meet the government’s World Heritage Convention obligations. What happens at Stonehenge WHS will test the government’s national and international credibility for heritage protection.

NOTES AND SOURCES

[1] About Stonehenge Alliance. http://stonehengealliance.org.uk/our-campaign/about-us/

[2] See also our “UNESCO and World Heritage Sites page”. http://stonehengealliance.org.uk/information/unesco-world-heritage-sites/

[3] Statement by 22 archaeologists, Parker Pearson et al. 23 April 2018. http://stonehengealliance.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Consultation-letter-from-Stonehenge-archaeologists-23-April-2018.pdf

[4] Analysis and Conclusion by World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies in 2017. http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/3652

[5] UNESCO, World Heritage Committee, 42nd Session, Provisional agenda item 7B, pp. 35-38. https://WHC.unesco.org/archive/2018/whc18-42com-7BAdd-en.pdf. NOTE: The World Heritage Committee [WHC] is made up of cultural representatives from 22 countries and meets once a year. The 42nd WHC meeting will be held in June-July 2018 in Bahrain. UNESCO’s Analysis and Conclusions concerning Stonehenge WHS can be found on p35.

[6] Stonehenge is one part of the Stonehenge and Avebury WHS, inscribed in 1986. Should Stonehenge be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, Avebury would also be similarly at risk.

[7] Highways England, A303 Stonehenge Amesbury to Berwick Down Scheme Assessment Report, September 2017, para 10.4.4.https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/cip/a303-stonehenge/results/sar-volume-1.pdf

[8] ibid., paras.10.5.12 and 10.7.1

[9] Peninsula Rail Task Force.  https://peninsularailtaskforce.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/prtf-closing-the-gap.pdf

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