|12 February 2006
Stonehenge road debate prompts fresh bust-up
Controversial improvements for the A303 past Stonehenge have already cost British taxpayers a cool £14.1m even though not so much as an inch of new road has been built. The money has been shelled out on the now-shelved scheme of burying the holiday trunk road in a 1.3-mile tunnel. It was spent by the Highways Agency between March 2002 and spring of last year, transport minister Stephen Ladyman disclosed in the House of Commons, after being quizzed on the issue by Salisbury MP Robert Key.
A public inquiry was held into the bored tunnel project in 2004, then the project was shelved by the government last summer after the £200m price tag had more than doubled. Now the government has come up with other options for solving road problems at Stonehenge and these will face public scrutiny at a three-day exhibition at the White Hart Hotel in Salisbury. Meanwhile, as the exhibition and a 13-week consultation on the options get into full swing, there is talk of a bust-up between English Heritage and the National Trust.
English Heritage, custodian of the ancient monument, is said to be miffed that the trust has been involved in secret talks with the ministry of defence with a view to establishing a northern bypass route for the world heritage site.
Both English Heritage, which still prefers the bored tunnel scheme, and the trust denied they were at loggerheads, and met to discuss the trust's latest proposals including the northern route.
But Mr Key said: "I am amazed at the amount of money the government has pumped into preparation work for the A303 improvement at Stonehenge when a scheme has still not been approved. And I am disappointed that a row seems to have broken out between English Heritage and the National Trust." Mr Key, who backed the tunnel project at the public inquiry, said he would now support any scheme that would dual the A303 past Stonehenge. "Improving the A303 is also vital to the economy of the south-west region as a whole," he said.
In a statement, the National Trust said it was working hard during the latest consultation period to ensure that the status of Stonehenge was not denigrated. The statement said that none of the options contained in the government review was acceptable to the trust and concluded: "We have been involved in early discussions with a wide range of organisations, including the ministry of defence, and have this week met with the chairman of the Stonehenge options review steering group, in order to share more information on some options, including a revised northern route. Although we are not yet in a position to either support or oppose such a route, we do feel that it merits detailed exploration."
In the meantime, several options designed to protect Stonehenge for the future have been unveiled by the Highways Agency. The aim is to remove traffic from the World Heritage site, provide a bypass for Winterbourne Stoke and reduce accidents at the Wiltshire site. The four alternatives to the published scheme for the bored tunnel are: a) A northern route - which would have a junction with the A360 then go south of Larkhill and rejoin A303 at the Countess roundabout at Amesbury. It would involve a cut-and-cover tunnel. b) A southern route - which would have a junction with the A360 then go south of Stonehenge before rejoining the A303. c) A cut-and-cover tunnel - like the first tunnel scheme - but closer to the surface than a bored tunnel. d) A partial solution - which would include closing the A344 at its junction with the A303 and offer options for the end of the Winterbourne Stoke bypass.
English Heritage said until this latest review was completed, it would remain a supporter of the long bored tunnel. "Any alternative would need to offer benefits that are comparable to this scheme," said a spokesperson. A government decision is due next year.
Sources: BBC News (8 February 2006), Salisbury Journal (9 February 2006)
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