The latest proposal for this historic area: a 1.8 mile tunnel containing a new dual carriageway, its entrance and exit sitting inside the Stonehenge world heritage site, and which may also involve a new flyover. After years of proposals for a tunnel being knocked back and forth – a similar plan was ruled out in 2007 – the latest scheme was announced by then chancellor George Osborne in 2014. Soon after, David Cameron and Nick Clegg staged separate photo opportunities on the same day at Stonehenge, in an attempt to sell the economic benefits of a tunnel and widened road to locals. Give or take consultation processes and concerns about the costs, work is due to start in 2020.
The government talks about a supposed reduction of the congestion that has long affected this part of Wiltshire, and an upgrade that will “develop the A303 into a high-quality, high-performing route linking the M3 in the south-east and the M5 in the south-west, improving journeys for millions of people.”
Those who argue for a tunnel underground, cite the view of the passing traffic spoiling the area's remoteness and tranquility, as the main reason to use a billion pounds of tax monies. Other say its to reduce traffic congestion
Those who argue against it, like historian and radio personality Tom Holland state
“The issue is whether Stonehenge exists to provide a tourist experience, or whether it is something more significant, both historically and spiritually,” he says. “It has stood there for 4,500 years. And up to now, no one’s thought of injecting enormous quantities of concrete into the landscape and permanently disfiguring it.”
The International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises world heritage body Unesco, said recently that the current design would have a “substantial negative and irreversible impact” on the Stonehenge site, and that consideration has to be given to an alterative route that would take the A303 through land owned by the Ministry of Defence.
The proposed eight-metre flyover ( A british term that means some type of roadway, in context it isn't too specific) that would feed traffic in and out of the tunnel, Jacques says, would sit only a few hundred yards away. The concrete would dry out the very moist soil here and obliterate its archaeological richness. “It’ll take down the water table, and if that water table drops, it’ll remove all of the organics, like the animal bones. They’ll all be gone within five years. They’ll be reoxygenated, and they’ll degrade fast. So we’ll lose dating evidence, all the ways of understanding how people were living, and what their resources were.”
Andy Rhind-Tutt, a former mayor of Amesbury who is president of the local chamber of commerce. He does not buy the idea of the changes to the A303 as a bringer of local economic benefits (“It won’t bring business to the area – it’s about an expressway to send traffic faster to other parts of the West Country”), and says the fact that the new road will meet a junction leading to the Stonehenge visitor centre will still cause plenty of congestion. “You’ll end up with a traffic jam underground,” he says. “The tunnel will become, effectively, an underground car park.
“And a tunnel won’t deal with the issue of what happens to the traffic when there’s a problem,” he continues. “In fact, it’ll make it worse. A tunnel with a blockage will force cars to come through Amesbury or the local villages, which are already suffering. You’re going to end up with lorries coming through the villages every time the tunnel shuts.
“So the question I have is: What is the purpose of the tunnel? As far as I can see, there’s only one purpose, which is to remove the view of the stones from the road, and remove the view of the road from the stones. There can be no other reason.”
Salisbury Plain is the name of land close by, where a network of ancient burial mounds and other sites are rich with historical interest. land peppered with bronze age burial mounds and circular burial sites known as disc barrows. One is a burial mound known as Bush Barrow, which was first excavated in 1808. The finds here were centered on the remains of a man who had been buried along with grave goods including an axe, two daggers, and items of jewellery.
Blick Mead – a boggy, wooded spot, named after a local farm worker –has a spring that releases water at a constant 10–11C, even when the surrounding land is frozen – which probably explains why human beings were here a long time before Stonehenge was built.
Such animals as aurochs, a huge ancestor of the modern cow whose carcass could feed 200 people, gathered close by, which in turn drew people who used them as a source of food.
“Up to now, the assumption has been that Stonehenge was a kind of Neolithic new-build, in an empty landscape. And of course, the big question is: why is it where it is? Nobody’s had a very good answer for that. Something really odd was going on: these are normally nomadic people, but they are coming back here again and again and again.”
My news correspondent in Southwest England reports:
The only point of the bypass is indeed to improve the road link from London to the West Country, and won’t directly do anything for the local businesses other than make local journeys easier. The A303 is the most important route to the South West; the only real alternative is the M4 to Bristol then M5 down to Exeter which adds about an hour to the journey (given reasonable traffic flow for both paths) and also suffers from holiday overload. It would be really easy to just put a second carriageway in to widen the existing road, but that would spoil the view. Nobody sensible is arguing against a bypass, just how to implement it.
Once we’re into the holiday season the stretch of road past Stonehenge can take over an hour to drive with the extra traffic; it usually takes a couple of minutes. I tend to either travel very early or very late to avoid it, but I have that flexibility. The queues have been a lot worse since they put traffic lights on the Countess roundabout, but that’s a different piece of insanity.
The only reason that a tunnel was ever suggested is because they can’t agree any overland route – tunnels are never the preferred option in this country – and it’s an argument that’s been running for decades (literally). It’s not so much the land to the north being used by the Army, more that there are lots of bits of it that are reserved as SSSI (sites of special scientific interest), generally with a couple of rare newts on them, and with all sorts of legal protection. There are also many more burial barrows, but those are relatively easy to skirt around.
If they could bore a tunnel from the Countess roundabout (about a mile east of Stonehenge and out of its view) to the west of Winterborne Stoke (the next village along), it would make a big difference. There’s a decent length of fast road just after there, and a tunnel could link the two sections. The one thing I would object to is a cut-and-cover tunnel build.
Thank you David B!