Salisbury MP, John Glen MP and Wiltshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport Cllr Dr Mark McClelland [Note 1] recently wrote to the new Transport Secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan (see below). They raised UNESCO’s Advisory Mission’s report on the proposed A303 Stonehenge road project and asked the Minister to support National Highways’ scheme, arguing incorrectly that it would result in:
“sensitively mitigating risks” to the World Heritage Site (WHS)
“the very best solution for reducing journey times”, and
“removing the ugly scar of the current surface road”
The letter seriously misunderstands the High Court judgment, the Examiners’ conclusions, the former Transport Secretary’s views of the scheme and UNESCO’s position. [NOTE 2] We address the three assertions:
“mitigating risks” to the World Heritage Site
The High Court judgment quashed the DCO in part because the Transport Secretary, recognizing the damaging impacts of the scheme, had not given proper consideration to alternatives.
A principal finding of the Advisory Mission is that the scheme would have an adverse impact on the WHS. They advise that a southern bypass should be further explored, but at the very least the tunnel should be extended to the western WHS boundary. They also expressed concerns about the potential impact on the Mesolithic Site of Blick Mead.
The World Heritage Committee last year warned that without scheme amendment, it would consider placing the WHS on its list of World Heritage in Danger.
“the very best solution for reducing journey times”
At a scheme cost of at least £2.5bn, the time savings from London to the South West along the A303/A358 corridor would be in the order of eight minutes overall. This calculation depends on the completion of all eight A303 schemes proposed by the Department for Transport. Yet only three of those schemes have been funded to date. Implementation of the Stonehenge tunnel scheme would simply shunt congestion further down the road.
National Highways’ response fails to address the critical economic point made by the National Audit Office in 2019 that “the benefits of the Stonehenge section will not be realised until all eight schemes have been completed.”
The “significant advantages” for local communities at peak times do not require or warrant a damaging tunnel scheme. No one is objecting to a bypass for Winterbourne Stoke, and Wiltshire Council should be strongly managing traffic through the local villages of Shrewton and Larkhill in any case. Such schemes could have been implemented many years ago. A local resident wrote to us recently “we do not have the right to destroy the land and its artefacts when we could easily divert traffic in much more compassionate ways.”
“removing the ugly scar of the present road“
The scar of the present road would remain in the landscape, in part as a byway. In addition there would be about 2km of open dual carriageway within the WHS plus tunnel portals. Just outside, affecting the setting the WHS, ugly new junctions would scar the landscape and damage archaeology. The independent specialist Examiners pointed out that “the current proposal for a cutting would introduce a greater physical change to the Stonehenge landscape than has occurred in its 6,000 years as a place of widely acknowledged human significance. Moreover, the change would be permanent and irreversible.”
Furthermore, they said that the scheme “would give the [western] cutting greater visibility to users of the byway, with the likelihood of views directly into the cutting and into the entrance to the tunnel.” The former Transport Secretary accepted that the impacts on the WHS would be significantly adverse.
We conclude that…
On these grounds alone the scheme should be abandoned. Should the Transport Secretary wish to proceed, the scheme should be thoroughly reviewed and subject of another formal public Examination so that all of the new information submitted by National Highways and others since 2020 can be properly scrutinised.
NOTE 1: Dr Mark McClelland works part time for John Glen Mp and is Wiltshire Council’s Cabinet member for Transport
NOTE 2: Reference: Planning Inspectorate links to project overview