A303 DCO: The Accompanied Site Inspection

If you had been keeping half an eye on the Planning Inspectorate website, you would have realised that today was the first (and possibly only) Accompanied Site Inspection that the A303 Stonehenge to Berwick Down scheme inspectors are going to make to our section of the A303.

This meant the inspection team was crammed on a coach with a collection of folks representing different groupings – mainly Stonehenge Alliance and others of their ilk who oppose the tunnel and any other solution that goes near the World Heritage Site. Cycling out to meet them seemed a much better use of the morning than sitting on a coach being blethered at by Highways England.

Somewhat perversely, you might think, they didn’t begin their tour at the western end of the scheme by Yarnbury Castle as you might expect. We can only hope that this was because it was deemed dangerous to let the inspectors and their entourage loose on a byway next to the A303, rather than a premptive decision by the Inspectorate to avoid any discussion of the dangers of the Yarnbury crossing point. Time will tell.

I met with them close to the old Sheep Hospital, up the hill at Over Street, where they were looking back at the view of the A303 to the north east; for the first stop of the day, they were over 30 minutes late. At this point, its worth pointing out the protocol of these Planning Inspectorate visits. Whilst you can exchange civilities with them and point out “things of interest,” you aren’t supposed to try and discuss the details of your case with them. Of course, rules are designed to curb the timid and offer a somewhat elastic framework to the bold. So, if you are prepared to talk loudly to yourself, or to he fieldfares and hares in an adjacent field, there’s not a lot the Inspectors can do about it. It’s a bit like one of those legal scenes where the council for the defence introduces something that is so left field, that the judge will throw it out immediately. The judge also instructs the jury to forget it was ever said. However, the truth of the matter is that once something is said, you can never un-hear it. So I used the opportunity to build on the case to get the visual barriers raised from the 1.5m size that Highways England are proposing to something that will obscure the lights at night from HGVs on the proposed Till Viaduct.

Thanks are also due to the RAF and Army Air Corps. who timed their recce of the grass strip behind Yarnbury to perfection. That allowed me to raise the issue of the crossing and its dangers. The Inspectorate weren’t biting, but a Guardian journalist did; so hopefully that aspect might get some attention in the Press.

Inspectors and entourage at Foredown House

After an exhilarating downhill ride back to Over Street and home, via Berwick St James, a swift shower and a change of clothes whilst the inspectors visited Parsonage Down, then off to Foredown House, where 3 generations of Turner’s were waiting for them – to point out the impact the road and the construction process will have on their business; the severance of the farm and the impact of that on their calving operation and the long term damage to the soil structure that dumping hundreds of thousands of tons of chalk will have; for decades, maybe centuries and possibly millenia. It was apparent that several members of the team had no real appreciation of what something 10 metres tall looked like in a rural setting (like the proposed viaduct) and were rather taken aback when the comparison of a barn was used by Robert Turner. A few questions were asked by the inspectors and the entourage.

Thanks to Fiona Turner for shouting a response across the throng of visitors, to a bellowed question about sight-lines from the top of the hill, along the line of the proposed road. You can see the Visitor’s Centre and into the World Heritage Site. That means vehicle headlight from eastbound traffic will light up the western end of the World Heritage Site.

The Turner’s were keen to get the inspectors to walk up to the point where the proposed route crosses the byway, to get a real feel for just how close it is to Foredown House. They weren’t prepared to do that today, but the Chief Inspector did say she would do so on one of the unaccompanied site inspections.

The Chief Inspector is clearly not yet adept at herding cats and was having difficulty getting her team, let alone the entourage, back on the coach; many who would have stayed longer. They eventually got on board and left, to visit points of the scheme further east. I’d love to report Fiona Turner’s closing comment to her grand-daughter, just before the coach doors closed, but I fear I shouldn’t. If you ask her nicely, she might tell you; she might not. It came from so far out of left field that I doubt anyone who was on the coach and heard it, will ever forget!

Tomorrow sees the start of the Open Floor Hearings in City Hall. Everyone who has asked gets 5 minutes to make their points. It is going to be truly awful, as any masochists amongst you will discover, if you turn up for a session.

Winterbourne Stoke Parish Council