The Stonehenge tunnel scheme is contrary to national policies for decarbonisation, reducing emissions to meet Climate Obligations and at odds with the Climate Change Committee ambition to reduce traffic levels overall.
We have to reduce unnecessary travel, traffic and shift freight to rail. There is still an opportunity to pause, to plan Stonehenge with priority for climate action, conservation and local economic and social benefits.
Respect Stonehenge asks four critical questions that have not been properly addressed by Highway England’s plan for the A303 by Stonehenge:
1. Why build a tunnel that grows traffic when we have to plan for long term traffic reduction?
2. Why not trial lower speeds on the A303 that can immediately reduce noise impacts without any of the harm of the tunnel scheme?
3. Why not explore the scope for better local road management and road charging and use funds to invest in a smarter hierarchy of walking, cycling and public transport improvements?
4. Why not avoid marginalising passing motorists and keep Stonehenge fully in the public domain with greater local economic benefits?
Stonehenge is a national asset that should remain public, accessible and safely in view from the A303, not restricted to an expensive visit by car or ticketed tour coach. It should be better connected with nearby towns and villages, a frequent shuttle bus, priority walking routes, a cycleway to link Salisbury to Stonehenge. If a noise reduction of 10db can be achieved by speed reduction it will have delivered all the anticipated benefits of the tunnel scheme without any of its cost, disruption, carbon emissions, increased traffic and noise along the A303 or the significant heritage and landscape harm.
As the Committee for Climate Change knows, UK national transport policy overall has to change to manage demand to deliver the emissions reductions seen elsewhere in energy production, waste recycling and building construction. It should start with an alternative approach to planning at Stonehenge.
Main points to consider:
- A c.3km tunnel scheme was approved for questionable economic benefits and local benefits of reduced noise and visual disturbance to Stonehenge from the A303 road.
- There remain compelling reasons of landscape, archaeology, cost and climate emissions to reject or pause the approved tunnel scheme.
- The substantial harm to archaeology remains to be fully understood as experts continually learn about the site.
- Millions of people enjoy a free view of Stonehenge as they pass on the A303 each year. Many wish to slow down, this should become the norm.
Summary of alternative package of measures:
- A low-speed pilot for the use of the A303 could be easily and immediately introduced, assessed for its anticipated benefits in reducing noise and disturbance, followed by laying of ultra-quiet surfacing.
- A local road charging provision could also help to manage congestion and generate green travel funds for walking, cycling, shuttle buses and improving the connection of the Stonehenge site with local businesses in Amesbury, Wiltshire museum in Devizes, Avebury WHS and Salisbury.
- Local traffic management measures funded and monitored to reduce impacts on local communities, all with no risk of the unintended consequences of ‘induced traffic’.
- The alternative offers a more inclusive solution which retains and enhances free public access and enjoyment of the monument on foot, by bicycle and local bus.
- Public savings (£2.5bn) can be achieved and used for greater public benefit.
- Huge emissions savings can be made (2m tonnes CO2 over 60 years).
- Valuable time can be won to protect the archaeology of Stonehenge, to further assess long-term changes to traffic patterns as a result of climate action policies, the changes to work travel patterns after the pandemic and the likely impacts of a shift to road user charging.
Pause for thought
Historically, by-passes have often been promoted on unrealised promises of traffic diversion. ‘Induced demand’, the additional traffic generated by road building, is widely understood by transport researchers, often ignored in traffic models, but long accepted by the UK government.  Highways England accept that traffic will be induced and yet they still forecast big local traffic reductions when models aren’t sophisticated enough to be reliable.
Before giving the green light to more traffic, Highways England should answer questions such as:
- What will be the ‘induced demand’ on local feeder routes, including via Shrewton, to the A303, once the ‘Stonehenge bottleneck’ has lost its reputation for delay?
- How many more car or lorry journeys become possible with the time savings?
- Isn’t induced traffic with local impacts an inevitable result of promoting the A303 as an alternative, and ‘back-up’, to the M4?
Whether the Save Stonehenge WHS legal challenge succeeds or fails the tunnel scheme should be paused to assess a lower speed, low cost, noise reducing alternative, as well as road user charging when road space is scarce. The impacts of positive ‘demand management’ policies with traffic and road freight reductions should also be modelled. Meanwhile immediate government funds for local engagement and action should be given to help villages such as Shrewton and Larkhill address existing problems of lorry routing, speeding etc rather than wait five years for the questionable outcomes of the tunnel.