The Saga of the Pedestrian Crossing on the A303

As most of you will be aware, the pedestrian controlled crossing on the A303 was put out of action around the time of the summer solstice by a less than attentive car driver.  It was clear that replacing it was going to take a little while, as the Siemens control box was crushed out of all recognisable shape.

It is fair to say that Highways England were fairly quick off the the mark in installing a set of temporary lights, but first managed to create a traffic hazard with them and then managed to block the pavement.   Worse still, the batteries failed every couple of days and it took a few more days for them to be replaced.   Eventually, these lights were replaced by a smaller, yellow set.  Not small enough, as one of them was destroyed by a passing truck after only a few days.  At least the batteries seem to last a bit longer…

The Parish Council, along with some of you, have been chasing Highways England since the outset for updates, using the only routes available to us – Highways England’s generic email address and 0300 telephone number, with absolutely no response.  We raised not only the pedestrian crossing, but the general state of the road, the “Keep Clear” box at the end of Church Street and a collapsing fibre duct close to the western gate of Manor Farm (having just got superfast broadband in the village, it would be rather ironic if these trunk fibres were cut or damaged!).

Wiltshire Council also approached Highways England on our behalf – and as far as we know met with a similar lack of response.  John Glen MP was also copied into some of the correspondence, but even that didn’t seem to help.

At the start of September, we got hold of the email address of the CEO of Highways England, Jim O’Sullivan.  At first, this seemed to get a reaction and the complaint was passed to the High Level Correspondence Team, we were promised an update within 15 working days and of course – absolutely nothing happened.  When the second light was hit on 5th September, we wrote to him again – still nothing. So, the CEO of Highways England didn’t appear to be able to get an answer out of his own employees.

At the start of October, after many more fruitless emails and phone calls, we wrote again to Jim O’Sullivan and copied our email to BBC Wiltshire – which is why Andy was at the end of Church Street with a reporter at 7:00am last Tuesday.   Oddly enough, with the threat of publicity in the air, Highways England managed to produce an update and projected timescale for repairs for the BBC, within a few hours.  As Andy said on the 7:30am news when first told of this – “…this wouldn’t have happened without the intervention of BBC Wiltshire.  Thank you BBC!”

Finally, today, we got a formal response from Highways England.   This is what it says:

 

A303 Winterbourne Stoke

Nick Harris
Operations Executive Director Bridge House
Walnut Tree Close
Guildford
Surrey
GU1 4LZ

www.highways.gov.uk

6 October 2017

Thank you for your recent correspondence addressed to Jim O’Sullivan, regarding your concerns with the maintenance of the A303 in Winterbourne Stoke. I have been asked to reply to you as this issue falls within my area of responsibility.

Please accept my apologies for the delay in dealing with your concerns. I understand Tim Ashton, the Business Services Team Manager in the South West, has made contact in this respect; I would like to reaffirm our commitment to improving the quality of our service in the future.

We understand the important role the pedestrian crossing plays in keeping road users safe in Winterbourne Stoke. Following the damage to the traffic signals, the installation of temporary signals has been particularly challenging. The width of the road and pavement provide very little space to safely site the equipment. We have tried as far as possible to limit the potential obstruction to both the carriageway and footpath. Installation of the permanent signals is currently scheduled to take place on 18 and 19 October.

We have investigated the lack of a response to your reports of the defective pavement. An administrative error prevented your report from reaching our maintenance team, for which I sincerely apologise. We have taken steps to ensure the error is not repeated. A maintenance service manager will be visiting the site today to carry out an inspection and arrange for any necessary repairs.

The road surface through Winterbourne Stoke is subject to regular inspections to identify defects which may need attention. Priority is given to any defects which are causing an immediate hazard, with other issues being prioritised based on their severity. We also seek to coordinate and combine works where we can to minimise the impact on road users and the local community.

We have identified that the eastbound lane of the A303 requires resurfacing as its skid resistance is starting to deteriorate. This work is currently scheduled to be carried out in February 2018. While we have no current plans to resurface the westbound lane in the immediate future, we are looking into the feasibility of refreshing the “Keep Clear” road markings.

Yours sincerely

Nick Harris
Operations Executive Director

So, there you have it.   Of course, the temporary lights have failed again today and it has proved impossible to contact anyone by phone…

A final thought for you all.  Highways England are the body charged with organising the construction of the bypass and the Stonehenge Tunnel, possibly the UK’s most sensitive road scheme of all time, of commissioning it and running it when complete.   Their seeming inability to repair a damaged set of lights, or even give an early indication of when that might be achieved, hardly fills one with confidence they can cope with a bigger issue.  Completion of the repair on 18-19 October might help restore confidence, a little.

Nobis villa in agro?

Our apologies for using a Latin title for this post, but we hope you will soon see why.  Back on the 31st of July we published a news item entitled “What Lies Beneath” having seen Wiltshire Archaeology at work in the field that runs alongside the Winterbourne Stoke to Berwick St James road, close to the boundary between two villages and close to the River Till.

What we didn’t say at the time and have resisted saying in public until now  is that we had an idea what they might have stumbled across – but little hard evidence.  Our hypothesis was based purely on the area where the ground penetrating radar was being used, the known history of the Till Valley, the clusters of springs along the route of the Till and what appeared to be “missing” from the local archaeology.

Having seen Wiltshire Archaeology at work, we turned to Google Earth to see if there was anything there that might confirm our suspicions.  In the Pro version of Google Earth, you can examine the latest images of an area, but also historical imagery.  Those images taken in winter, with low sun angles, are often very good at showing up ground features that aren’t obvious at other times of the year.  If you get really lucky, you can sometimes see ground features because of the different rate of growth of crops that overlay stone foundations.  We weren’t that lucky, but we did find an image taken on 26th January 2005 that had some possibly interesting features.

It’s quite hard to see, but at the end of the large arrow, there seems to be a large rectangular feature about 60ft by 20ft in size, which runs pretty much East-West in its longest dimension.   In other words, it has a similar footprint to St Peter’s Church.   To the East are two or three much smaller square foundations.

This had all the features of a Romano-British site, but we still didn’t want to set hares running because of a phenomenon called pareidolia.  The human brain is very prone to ‘seeing’ familiar images of shapes, people and animals when you look at a picture or view –  Donald Trump’s image on a piece of burnt toast, clouds that look like flying saucers, etc.  Although we thought it might be a Romano-British site bang on the route of the proposed southern bypass, we still weren’t sure.

So back to the title: Nobis Villa In Agro? – Do we have a villa in the field?

On Friday, following the announcement of the northern bypass preference, we asked Highways England consultants what had been found and they offered that it was “possibly a Roman-British site”.  However, that was their working hypothesis and still needs to be confirmed – they noted that the site could be much more recent than that and the truth is only likely to be uncovered through excavation.

The reason for mentioning this now, is of course its potential for developing local tourism in the future.  Mosaic floors (and that is a huge stretch of the imagination!) are very good at bringing in the tourists and boosting the local economy.

We’ve also noted the ground penetrating radar being used north of the A303 more recently, suggesting that even more interesting sites are turning up there as well.  All the archaeological work that has and is being undertaken as part of the Highway England planning will be published and we will provide links to all that directly affects our Parish.  It’s then up to us how we best exploit it.

A303: Highways England Drop-In Sessions

Highways England are hosting a number of what they are calling Drop-In Sessions at a number of venues in the coming days and weeks.   The aim of these is to allow the public to see the latest proposals on the Amesbury to Berwick Down Scheme, including the Winterbourne Stoke bypass.

The sessions we have been made aware of are as follows:

Location                                                                   Date                                                             Time

The Manor Barn
High St, Winterbourne Stoke, SP3 4SZ               Saturday 16 September 2017                   11am to 5pm

Antrobus House
39 Salisbury Rd, Amesbury, SP4 7HH                 Friday 22 September 2017                       2pm to 8pm

Antrobus House
39 Salisbury Rd, Amesbury, SP4 7HH                 Saturday 23 September 2017                  11am to 5pm

The Manor Barn
High St, Winterbourne Stoke, SP3 4SZ               Friday 29 September 2017                       2pm to 8pm

A303: Northern Bypass for Winterbourne Stoke and Stonehenge to Berwick Down Scheme

Today’s announcement of a northern bypass for Winterbourne Stoke is something of a curates egg – it’s only good in parts. As a village, we were offered two poorly thought-through bypass route options by Highways England, with no information that supported either as a rational choice and were then asked to state a preference. Both route options seemed likely to result in adverse effects on the lives and health of at least some villagers, on local businesses, the local ecology and the archaeology. This has proved un-necessarily divisive and I feel Highways England have treated local residents in a very shabby fashion. The northern route that seemed likely to have the least adverse impact on the greatest number of villagers on the basis of the information that we ourselves uncovered, has now emerged as the preferred choice.

So, at a very superficial level, there will be sense of relief by many in the village, that the blight of traffic jams on the A303 may finally be solved. But we’ve been in similar situations before and we won’t be convinced that it will happen until the work actually begins. We are not celebrating just yet.

Whilst being unimpressive at the parochial scale, the plan also fails at every other level. We are lucky enough to live in a globally unique landscape. The government had the opportunity to protect it for posterity by removing the A303 from this part of south Wiltshire entirely. Taking the route south of Amesbury and meeting up with the A36, or by going north onto the southern edge of the Salisbury Plain Training Area might have achieved this at a lower cost than the current proposal and to greater ecological and archeological benefit. They have chosen not to do this. Shame on them.

Sadly, the archaeological emphasis has focused on the rather narrow interests of English Heritage and Stonehenge. Even the World Heritage Site is an artificial construct – the archaeology doesn’t stop west of the A360, or south-west of the Longbarrow roundabout. If the government wanted to do anything other than pay lip-service to history, this would have been taken into account; it hasn’t been.

Motor vehicles have been around for a little over a century and it seems unlikely that transportation needs are going to remain the same for the next century. So it is incredibly short-sighted to damage this unique landscape further with tunnel portals, signage and a bypass.

Locally, even if the work does go ahead on an already delayed schedule, we are still faced with years of traffic jams and pollution until the bypass is completed. Until that is done, Highways England need to implement two simple measure that would prevent most of the traffic chaos in the area – erect temporary sight-screens along the northern side of the A303 to prevent motorists and their passengers from seeing Stonehenge and slowing to take selfies, and closing Byways 11 and 12 to motorised traffic and maybe installing a temporary footbridge over the A303 at Byway 12. English Heritage and others would surely complain about the first idea, but it would only be temporary, it would improve Health and Safety for motorists and it would prevent much of the rat-running that blights all our lives on a daily basis.

So, the news today will not be to the liking of all villagers. That was always going to be the case from the moment two options were put on the table. As a Parish Council, we now intend to do our best to ensure the impact of the bypass is minimised for those most exposed to it, and to find ways of benefitting the village as a whole as a result of its construction.

What Lies Beneath?

Earlier on today,we noticed that Wiltshire Archaeology were back in the recently harvested field between the Berwick St James road and the River Till.  When they were last there, back in the spring before the Oilseed Rape had even sprouted, they were conducting a magnetometer survey to see if there was anything of interest in the ground that could impact on plans for a southern bypass route for Winterbourne Stoke.  Today, they had upped the ante, and were using ground penetrating radar (GPR) – a technique that can, depending on the terrain and soil composition, look deeper in the ground than magnetometry and also establish the depth of buried archaeology.

We have to ask ourselves: “Why?”

Speculation is all we have for the moment, which isn’t ideal, but there would seem to be two likely situations.  First, that the magnetometer survey found nothing and the GPR survey is something of a belt and braces activity to double-check; as once covered by a dual carriageway if the Southern route was selected, it wouldn’t be possible to look again. So it’s being done for completeness.

Second, the magnetometer survey found something interesting and they are now back for a more detailed look.  Time will tell.

The only certainty is, that along with all the other archaeology and environmental surveys for both the northern and southern routes that have been undertaken on behalf of Highways England for the A303 Stonehenge to Berwick Down Scheme, all the results SHOULD be made public.

 

Government Looking at Private Finance to Improve the A303 – Delays Seem Inevitable

Villagers may be very interested to made aware of the 2017 Annual Report on the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP) from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA),  published yesterday (18 July 2017) by the Cabinet Office.

Buried in one of the supporting documents is the following text relating to the Stonehenge to Berwick Down A303 Project:

Construction of twin-bored tunnel of at least 1.8 miles as the road passes Stonehenge coupled with a dual carriageway bypass for Winterbourne Stoke to link the existing dual carriageway section around Amesbury with the dual carriageway at Berwick Down. Project aims are: – To create a high quality route between the South East and the South West that meets future needs of traffic – To enable growth in jobs and housing by providing a free-flowing and reliable connection between the South East and the South West – To help conserve and enhance the World heritage site and to make it easier to reach and explore – To improve biodiversity and provide a positive legacy for nearby communities.

The red delivery confidence rating (This means:Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable. There are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable. The project may need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed. ED) that was awarded at Gateway 1 reflects the complexity of the project. To improve this rating an action plan was put in place. A review of progress made against the recommendations was carried out in October 2016, in which the delivery confidence rating was upgraded to red/amber (This means the project is now viewed as follows:  Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible.)

. The review team acknowledged the progress made by the project team but proposed a review of the delivery schedule, in light of the recent decision from HMT to adopt a Private Finance DBFM approach. The project team will ensure successful, timely delivery of the project by undertaking the recommendations proposed by the review team.

Project is on track with the option selection process prior to a statutory pre-application public consultation planned for January 2018 as part of the Development Consent Order Process. The Road Investment Strategy (RIS) has set a challenging target of starting works within the first RIS period, i.e. prior to April 2020. This target can only be achieved if the project is publicly financed. A revised Private Finance delivery programme is being developed.

The key take home-message seems to be that successful delivery of the project is still in doubt, the Treasury have decided to adopt a privately-financed design, build, finance and maintain (DBFM) approach to funding this scheme – despite the assurances that the funding had been ring-fenced.   So, the time scales we have previously been given (start in 2020 and completion by 2024) are now, seemingly, irrelevant.

Historic England Research: Exploring the Landscape of Stonehenge

Villagers may be interested in the the sixth issue of Historic England Research.

As Duncan Wilson, the Chief Executive of Historic England, says in his introduction:

“Given the current, and understandably passionate, debate about how best to manage serious and increasing traffic congestion on the A303 as it crosses the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, the focus on Stonehenge is timely. In this case our focus is not on visitor or traffic management through the site, but instead on how research by Historic England and others is continuing to enhance our understanding and appreciation of the Stonehenge landscape – an important ambition of the World Heritage Site Management Plan.”

Whatever your views on the proposed bypass for Stonehenge and our village, it is well worthwhile being aware of the latest views of the archaeologists involved in excavations within and on the borders of the World Heritage site.  As Sun Tzu wrote in the “Art of War” …

知己知彼,百戰不殆。

and as paraphrased later in English: “It pays to know your enemy”.
Of particular significance to us all may be the map on page 10, which shows just how arbitrary the boundaries of the World Heritage Site actually are and how there is much largely undocumented archaeology lying to the west of the A360 both to the north and to the south of the A303.

The Day of the Triffids?

Well, no, not really.  Nothing to do at all with John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic novel from 1951 coming to life in Winterbourne Stoke, but those of you around and about in the village and the A303 earlier today would have seen the large signs warning of “Heavy Plant Crossing”.   These were warning of the drilling rig being unloaded and set up behind Cleeve View to the south of the A303.  This is yet another activity associated with a potential bypass of the village.  Highways England are sinking a 13 metre borehole to monitor water in the aquifer directly under the village.

Work will only be conducted during daytime hours as it will generate a bit of noise.  It is also likely to continue for a few days.

We don’t believe the monitoring is going to be permanent, which is a great shame, as in time it could prove a better resource than the Tilshead borehole in predicting flooding within the village.

Onboard and Online: Update on Arup’s Non-Motorised User Stakeholder Engagement

I’ve just taken a most interesting and helpful telephone call from Ross Cullen at Arup regarding the Non-Motorised User (NMU) Stakeholder Engagement exercise that is currently underway.  There had clearly been a breakdown of communication between Arup and the Parish Council and when things go wrong it is always tempting to think it is as a result of conspiracy when, in fact,  it is nothing more than a cock-up.  That’s very much the case here.

Arup had indeed sent out an invitation to participate in the NMU, intended for the Parish Council.  It had been sent to the Parish Clerk’s personal email address found on the Wiltshire Council website by Arup staff, rather than the official email address for the Clerk found at the foot of every page on this website.  As the email didn’t mention it was intended for the Parish Council and it wasn’t sent to the Clerk’s official email address, it was assumed to be a private email and responded to accordingly…

…so, mystery solved.   A cock-up.

The good news is that Arup will take your responses to the three questions below, by phone (02920 266681), or by email (a303.stakeholders@arup.com),  up until the end of March.  They really want your participation to advise them.  Please can we ask everyone who reads this to speak with your immediate neighbours and check that they are aware of the consultation.  This will also be posted on the village noticeboard asap.

Please note that they are not just interested in how we use the footpaths and byways in the immediate vicinity of the village, but across a much wider area of countryside bounded by the red perimeter, with particular interest in those within the yellow inner perimeter – which itself stretches from Wylye to Bulford.  We are aware that many horse and bike riders from the village regularly use this wider network of routes.  Consequently, it’s far better for you to respond to Arup in person and directly rather than rely on the well-meaning, but narrowly-focused response that you may have received from the Campaign for the Preservation of the Southern Till Valley.   The questions being asked are very straightforward and the Arup staff are being most helpful in assisting villagers to capture a whole range of issues that affect the broader A303 corridor.

If you want a high resolution PDF of the map, you can get one from here.  If you don’t have email, but still want to respond electronically, either ask a Parish Councillor to help you.  Otherwise use the phone line below.

Highways England is progressing its investigation into options for improving the 7.5 mile section of the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down. Our consultation on the proposed option for a tunnel past Stonehenge and a bypass north or south of Winterbourne Stoke concluded on 5 March 2017. As we consider the results of this consultation, we are also continuing our design development work.

As part of this design development work, we are collecting information to help consider the specific needs of Non-Motorised Users, considered to be pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians.

Please confirm your interest by replying to this correspondence before 13 March if you wish to contribute your views on this subject. Please note that this engagement is in addition to any response you have made to the consultation which concluded on 5 March.

Should you agree, we would like to follow up this email with a scheduled telephone conversation at your convenience. Please let us know of your contact number and a specific time that suits you within the next two weeks.

Alternatively, you can continue this correspondence via email if you prefer. To help us collect the required information, please respond to the following questions:

How do you use the current pedestrian, cyclist and equestrian facilities within the study area shown in the attached drawing?  (See below)
What issues with the footpath and byway network do you consider have an impact on how you use these pedestrian, cyclist and equestrian facilities?
Do you have any other comments regarding pedestrian, cyclist and equestrian activity/facilities?

We look forward to hearing your thoughts about the above, and should you have any queries or concerns, please contact us on 02920 266681.

Yours sincerely,

Toria Thomas
AAJV Non-Motorised User Lead
A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down

The Hub, 500 Park Avenue, Aztec West, Bristol. BS32 4RZ

Email: a303.stakeholders@arup.com
Tel: 02920 266681

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