Yesterday I met local councillors representing the communities around Stonehenge to talk about the recent decision to go ahead with the tunnel on the A303. I was recently nominated as the Conservative candidate for the new East Wiltshire constituency, which includes Stonehenge and Amesbury. I am therefore keen to listen to all sides in this debate. Today, UNESCO has, during its meeting in Saudi Arabia, urged the Government to make amendments to the current tunnel plan, suggesting that the World Heritage Site (WHS) is at risk of being placed on the danger list if changes are not made. They would prefer an alternative route around the site or a longer tunnel that returns to the surface further to the west. A decision on this may come in February, next year.
For many local people the current congestion is a twice-daily blight on their lives. The congestion on and around the A303 turns narrow country lanes into super charged rat runs, just at the time when local residents are trying to commute and take their children to school. Their villages become racetracks for those trying to cut out the normally congested parts of this strategic route to the southwest. The bottle neck just to the west of Countess Roundabout is no doubt to blame for some of this, but it is heavily compounded by single lane roads and roundabouts which are overladen by traffic from every angle. Clearly, something does need to change. The A303 is an important freight and tourism route to the Southwest but, like many of our roads, was never designed for the motorway-like levels of traffic it receives.
Whether this justifies a hugely expensive and disruptive building project, with some real threats to the historic landscape, with the end result of denying anyone a free sight of Stonehenge... is a good question.
Public opinion appears split. There are those who want nothing to change, those who want a tunnel, those who want the A303 dualled with or without flyovers or bypasses. The overwhelming view I pick up, however, is that this project will never actually go ahead. I have no idea whether it will, though currently the Government's policy is to continue pushing against the legal obstacles.
I will continue to meet with the various stakeholders of the project over the coming months to explore all aspects of the scheme, including alternatives. No doubt there will be a few more bumps in the road before we are closer to a final decision.