Monday, July 15, 2024

GREEN LIGHT FOR STONEHENGE TUNNEL

Unlock congestion and transform journeys for millions of people using the A303 between the south-east and south-west of England

The UK Government has given the formal green light by granting a Development Consent Order for the A303 Stonehenge scheme, which will help to unlock congestion and transform journeys for millions of people using the A303 between the south-east and south-west of
England.

The proposals were initially granted consent in 2020 and following a legal challenge and a High Court ruling against the decision-making process, the application has undergone a thorough redetermination process of more than 12 months before this announcement.

The transformational and sensitive upgrade will tackle congestion on the notorious, traffic-clogged single carriageway section of the arterial A303 route, and the announcement is a significant step towards unlocking economic growth and improving journey times
and reliability between the M3 and M5.

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Some eleven Development Consent Orders have been granted since April 2022 and the announcement follows the go-ahead for another major infrastructure project in the Southwest of England, the A417 Missing Link dualling scheme in Gloucestershire.

Highways England Chief Executive Nick Harris said: “The A303 Stonehenge scheme is part of the biggest investment in our road network for a generation, and I am really pleased the project has been given the green light by the Secretary of State for Transport, a decision which will enable us to progress this transformational scheme and deliver the planned benefits. The decision follows a lot of work on a comprehensive year-long process to reassess our Development Consent Order, looking in detail at alternatives, also including cumulative carbon and heritage issues. It means we are now a step closer to solving the longstanding issues of congestion and delays on the existing A303, improving journeys for all our customers, and bringing much-need relief to local communities. The investment, along with other improvements along the A303, will help to boost the Southwest economy, improve journey reliability, remove the sight and sound of traffic from this very busy road and return one of our most important World Heritage Sites to something like its original setting.”

Details Of the Scheme

The A303 Stonehenge upgrade includes eight miles of free-flowing, high-quality dual carriageway between Amesbury and Berwick Down in a tunnel at least two miles long
underneath the World Heritage Site, which closely follows the existing A303 route, but a
further 50 m away from the Stonehenge monument, avoiding important archaeological sites and avoiding intrusion on the view of the setting sun from the stones during the
winter solstice as well as a new bypass to the north of the village of Winterbourne Stoke junctions with the A345 and A360 either side of the World Heritage Site.

Derek Parody, Project Director for the A303 Stonehenge scheme, added: “It is a scheme
objective to conserve and enhance the World Heritage Site and this is being achieved through close collaborative working with heritage groups, including English Heritage,
National Trust, Historic England and the independent A303 Scientific Committee. The scheme will not only sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the Stonehenge landscape, it will also have a beneficial effect and extensive archaeological studies and assessments have been undertaken to provide evidence of the benefits that the scheme will deliver for the World Heritage Site. The decision represents a major milestone, not only for us as the project team but for all those who have supported this project over a number of years, our stakeholders, the heritage bodies, local and regional businesses and indeed local communities. We are currently analysing the detailed changes within the Development Consent Order and assessing timescales but we anticipate being able to start preparatory work in 2024.”

What Happens Next?

There is now a six-week period in which parties can lodge an intention to legally challenge the decision, and in the meantime, Highways England will be renewing its plans to prepare for the scheme.

Last year the company awarded the Main Works contract to the MORE joint venture, comprising FCC Construcción, WeBuild and BeMo Tunnelling, to deliver the £1.25 billion tunnel and main construction work. Costain and Mott MacDonald will be operating as the company’s Delivery Assurance Partner, providing technical and construction management expertise by helping mobilise the main works contractor, oversee construction, assist the discharge of consent requirements and assure the design.

The construction phase is scheduled to take five years to complete and ahead of the main work, Wessex Archaeology will carry out archaeological mitigation work, while Octavius (formerly Osborne Ltd) will undertake preliminary work, including the reconfiguration of local authority roads.

Archaeological fieldwork and preliminary work will start first, with the main five-year construction phase to follow that programme.

Cllr Caroline Thomas, Wiltshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport, has also welcomed
the decision and said: “We are delighted that consent has been granted once again for the A303 Stonehenge project and it can now move forward. This huge infrastructure project represents a significant investment in Wiltshire that will boost the economy of both our county and the wider region, unlocking jobs and investment. Along with the construction, there will also be comprehensive programme of archaeological mitigation, which will enhance our understanding of the World Heritage Site. We can now look forward to construction starting and unlocking all the benefits the scheme will bring both to Wiltshire communities and the wider South West region.”

David Tucker, Federation of Small Businesses Transport Chair, added: “This is very welcome news. Upgrading the single carriageway sections of the A303 is key to supporting the South West economy, particularly as the only alternative route via the M4 and M5 into the region is already heavily used. Investment in improving key links on the country’s ‘A’ roads is a positive and vital way to support our local regional economies.”

Rachael Webb, Wiltshire Team Leader for Natural England, added: “We have worked with National Highways to get some really great outcomes for wildlife from the A303 Stonehenge scheme. The verges and embankments will make for a flower-rich, six-mile long, butterfly highway and large areas of species-rich chalk grassland will be created.”
Local communities will be able to find out more about plans for the A303 Stonehenge upgrade at a series of public information events to be announced in due course.

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