Failure to consider alternatives was a key factor in the quashing of the Secretary of State’s decision to approve the A303 Stonehenge scheme in 2021.

However, the scheme promoter, National Highways, has not attempted to produce alternatives to a scheme for which even the then Secretary of State, Grant Shapps, found the heritage impact to be “significantly adverse“. [1]

UNESCO’s Advisory Mission report (April 2022) stated that ideally the road should be taken outside the WHS, but accepted that any tunnel should extend at least to the western WHS boundary.  It also recommended that no decision should be taken on the scheme before the next World Heritage Committee meeting [in September 2023].  [2]

In the event, the request to delay a decision about the road until after the Committee meeting in September was sidelined, and the road scheme approved in July 2023 [3]

Alternative routes

  • National Highways’ review of the current scheme has been based on the misapprehension that the scheme would ‘conserve and enhance the World Heritage Site‘ and is the ‘best solution‘.  This fails to acknowledge the damning findings that the scheme would harm the world heritage and that its key aims would not be realised.  Thus their review of alternatives amounts to little more than confirmation of the previous options appraisal that were dismissed. [4]
  • For example, in respect of the bored tunnel extension to 600m beyond the WHS boundary, the scheme promoter suggests that ‘There is no evidence that the additional investment required to extend the tunnel length would deliver meaningful additional benefits to the WHS that would justify the additional cost.‘  The road agency dismissed extending the tunnel owing to its extra cost despite the obvious significant benefits of not losing about 7ha of fabric of the WHS, as well as the associated additional wildlife benefits. [5]
  • National Highways asserts that the F010 route that would take the road outside the WHS would have a larger ‘environmental impact’ and would encourage ‘higher levels of rat running’.   Their arguments are not substantiated by any firm evidence.

Urgent consideration for a package of alternative solutions

By selectively promoting the expensive tunnel scheme other options have been blocked.  For instance, it is notable that in the last 30 years proper consideration of how to reduce the impact of road traffic on local communities has been totally absent.  During this time, progress on piloting low cost, low impact measures that could have offered significant relief, and should have been tested.  And still could be.

Cycle friendly suggestions to improve crossing the busy road have been made by others over many years.

Reasons for fundamentally reviewing the tunnel project are: [5]

  • Climate change: The policy environment has changed and there is a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and decarbonisation from transport.  It has become a policy imperative to look beyond purely road-based solutions to transport problems on the A303 and elsewhere.
  • Improving regional rail services: Transferring trips to public transport has the potential of releasing capacity on the A303, but research on the interventions is very dated and merits a thorough study on the impacts of various measures. Encouragingly, Network Rail has committed to electrification from Newbury to Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance, making journeys faster and more attractive whilst building capacity for more freight. [6]
  • Changes to travel patterns: Increased home working is reducing travel demand by road and rail compared to pre-pandemic levels.  This is especially true on rail routes, thereby releasing capacity.  There is a strong case that could be made for enhanced rail capacity between Salisbury and Exeter together with complementary measures to improve local public transport access and creating encouraging conditions for active travel.
  • Loss of tax revenue: Loss of tax revenue from electrification of vehicles is forcing a debate on road user charging.  If this policy were adopted it is likely to be a major disincentive to make long distance journeys by car.
  • Now is the moment for an intelligent debate about a package of measures: Stonehenge could be a world leader in applying best practice in demand management and low carbon solutions for World Heritage Sites and other protected landscapes.

We do not put ourselves forward as advocates of any specific intervention, although we do advocate the general approach of sustainable transport measures that would be far more fitting in the 21st century than gouging a concrete trench through a prehistoric “landscape without parallel”.

The following suggestions have been proposed by town planner Tim Hagyard that could be implemented or piloted before “considering an expensive and massively intrusive landscape intervention” to avoid the unintended consequences of induced traffic: [7]

  • low-speed pilot assessed for its anticipated benefits in reducing noise and disturbance, followed by laying of ultra-quiet surfacing;
  • local road charging pilot to manage congestion at peak times and generate green travel funds for walking, cycling, and connecting shuttle buses;
  • Local traffic management, monitored to reduce impacts on local communities; and
  • Retain an inclusive solution which enhances free public access and enjoyment of the monument on foot, by bicycle and local bus.

References

  1. Stonehenge Alliance, July 2022:  Redetermination: process grinds on (See also Section 5 for analysis, Section 6 for ways to improve traffic flows here.)
  2. UNESCO/ICOMOS Mission report April 2022  (Other WH Committee decisions listed here
  3. Stonehenge Alliance, Press Release, 14 July 2023: A303 Stonehenge approval threatens de-listing of Stonehenge World Heritage Site
  4. Ground Engineering, 27 July 2023: Stonehenge tunnel extensions not worth the cost, says National Highways
  5. Phil Goodwin, Evidence to Transport Select Committee, 2020: Major infrastructure projects appraisal and delivery
  6. Peninsula Rail Task Force, November 2016, The South West Peninsula strategic rail blueprint  
  7. Tim Hagyard, 2021: Respect Stonehenge – A climate and heritage-led alternative that keeps Stonehenge public 

Take action!

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