Having Problems With Highways England’s e-Response Form?

Having received a few adverse comments about the A303 Stonehenge Response Form,  which Highways England had provided in PDF form, we did a bit of digging and had a play ourselves.   We don’t think it’s a particularly friendly format and some of you may find it difficult to near-impossible to edit with your available computer system and software; especially if you are an Apple user.  Most of you will be unable to attach photographs, diagrams, charts or tables should you wish to do so, without buying specialist software.   We didn’t think that was either fair or sensible.

Consequently, we produced a version of the document as an MS Word file which you can get here.  Apple users can get a Pages version here.

We have checked with Highways England and have been assured by Heather Price, the A303 Stonehenge Correspondence Officer, that you can use these templates to produce your reponses, provided you save it as a PDF file when you have finished editing it.  This is simple to do both in MS Word and Apple Pages.

Please let us know if you have any issues with either the original PDF format, or the two templates we have provided.

Pedestrians, Yes! Cyclists, Yes! – But What About The Horses?

When the Chairman of the PC attended the inaugural meeting of the A303 Stonehenge Community Forum, he met Myra Bennett, the British Horse Society’s County Access Officer for Wiltshire, and they agreed to meet up earlier this week for further discussions, as it seemed likely that their interests might align with those of the village and many of the villagers.

Since that meeting, Myra has provided us with an open letter, which can be found here in the “Notices” section of the website.  If you walk out of the village, ride a bike, or ride a horse, we would strongly suggest you have a look at what the British Horse Society has to say.

On the Wiltshire Council mapping above, footpaths are in purple, byways are brown, restricted byways in red and bridleways in green.

One of the greatest problems we have, as a village split by the A303, is safe access onto byways.  There are no byways that leave the heart of the village and head south.  The only strictly legal options in that direction, are to head out east or west onto the A303, before cutting back south on byway WSTO6A,  past Hill Farm, or south along the B3083 towards Berwick St James; less than ideal for cyclists – especially children – or equestrians.

Options for going north are not a lot better.  You first have to negotiate the A303 – difficult when there is a lot of traffic and dangerous when it is speeding through.  You have three alternatives – of sorts.  You could try byway WSTO3, from just oppoite the northern end of the B3083 Berwick road to a few hundred yards up the B3083 to Shrewton – good luck!  You could ride north on WSTO4, past Foredown House and onto either byway WSTO6B, or byway/bridleway WSTO5, north westwards Shrewton, but both these routes bring you out on the A360 at Rollestone – hardly a relaxing place.  The truly brave (some might say foolhardy) pedestrian, cyclist or horse rider, might – once they have found a route to WSTO6A, try crossing the A303 east of the village, through the small gate in the hedge on the northern side and onto WSTO6B which joins on to the two previously mentioned routes to the northwest.  Whilst you occasionally see a walker using this route and rarely, a mountain biker,  we’d never spotted a rider in over 30 years,  until this morning.  It was heart stopping to see a clearly spooked horse being led across to the south, with a juggernaut bearing down from the east at high speed…

Given all of the above, plus the fact that all new road schemes are meant to be equestrian friendly, you’d have though that Highways England might have tried a bit harder than they have.  We’ve prepared the map above based on the one provided by Highways England in the consultation document.  We have identified paths and byways using the Wiltshire Council numbering scheme in red and key points at junctions etc, with blue letters.  You can get copies of this map here as a PDF File and here as a PNG file.  We hope you will use this as a common scheme in your own responses to Highways England.  It will also make it easier to discuss things with other villagers.

Here are a few points to ponder when you are responding to the public consultation:

1. Although a pedestrian and cycle route is proposed between points A and T on the map above, along the course of the “old” A303.  Highways England don’t propose it being available for equestrians.  It needs to be a restricted byway;

2. They propose to run this pedestrian and cycle track on the northern side of the “old” A303 from P to S – the southernmost of the two new roundabouts at Longbarrow.This means that you would have to cross the “old” A303 into the village right next to what is going to be a very busy roundabout; not very clever.  This could be avoided completely by moving the footpath to the southern side of the A303, reducing the width of the current road to achieve traffic calming and avoid the need for a land take.

3. Worse still is the proposed crossing of the A360 to join up with Green Bridge No.4 and into the World Heritage Site.  According to Derek Parody of Highways England, it’s going to be at level, no underpass or overpass.  So, we are going to be dodging the traffic travelling at high speed to and from the direction of Salisbury – if that is allowed to happen.

4. We’ve also been made aware of the likelihood that the livery at Scotland Lodge could be cut off from its usual exits to points north during the construction phase – possibly for several years.  As it stands, and with no alternative that we are aware of offered, that seems completely unacceptable.  One option might be to construct the new proposed byway from A to G over the proposed Green Bridge 1, then from G to D ,as an “advance work” to give Scotland Lodge, and others, a hacking route out of the village before their northern exit is closed off.

5.  That said, the long-term use of the proposed Green Bridge 1 is likely to prove highly contentious.  It may act as a magnet to a host  of undesirables from outside the village.  On the other hand, the old section of the road from A-B might be a potential site for some legacy features for the village and wider community.  Lots of opportunities for discussion here and many issues to consider.  For instance, how do farmers get to fields north of the A303 if there is no permanent crossing at A to G?  One option might be an entrance off the B3083 at H and a track between H and G.  Of course, Green Bridge 1 is also meant as a bat crossing…

6. There’s then the issue of BSJA3 which currently opens onto the A303 at E.  That clearly isn’t going to be acceptable. So, what happens to farm traffic wanting to join the A303?   Presumably it will be expected to travel west from E to D at Yarnbury Castle, but what then?

7. Already, crossing from SLAN3 at D, north onto BSJA4 is very dangerous – even with a central divide.  The route is used regularly by pedestrians, cyclists, equestrians, farm-vehicles, the Army, off-road motorcycles and 4x4s. The traffic on the A303 is currently either at a standstill or travelling at high speed, but in the future it will (hopefully – given all the grief we are going to have to suffer!) all be travelling at high speed.  Consequently, given the need to cross north to south and the danger of doing so at grade, a proper crossing is needed.  One option might be to close both exits onto the A303 and move Green Bridge 1 further to the west from G to D; thereby solving two problems.

This is only scratching the surface and there are likely to be many more issues associated with paths, byways and bridleways.  Villagers: please use the forum pages to discuss these issues or to add more to the list. You can also come along to a Parish Meeting in March (details to be announced soon) to air your views.

A303 Stonehenge Statutory Consultation Documents

We have provided the two key documents for the A303 Stonehenge Scheme Statutory Consultation in the “Documents” section of this website.

The first of these is the e-version of the Public Consultation Booklet – February 2018 – Click the link to go straight to it.


The second is the Consultation Response Form.

Both of these will be available in hardcopy from the various briefing meetings, in local shops and doctor’s surgeries and, we hope, Stonehenge Filling Station.  Please can you ALL make individual responses to Highways England in addition to the one that we, the Parish Council, will submit collectively, based on the feedback we receive from villagers here online, in hardcopy and verbally.

We wouldn’t presume to tell you how you should respond to this consultation.  In any event, your personal and unique views and perspectives on the issue are likely to carry more weight than are multiple versions of a single statement.  That said, we will be happy to point you in the direction of any factual information we may be aware of and, if necessary, try and help you make sense of it.   The information being released by Highways England will be found here.

Onboard and Online: A303 Stonehenge Scheme Community Forum

Last week, Highways England launched the A303 Stonehenge Scheme Community Forum at a meeting in Amesbury.  This is one of a number of fora that have been set up, others we understand are for local landowners, farmers, businesses , etc.  The Community Forum covers not only Parish Councils, but established groups like the British Horse Society, the Bustard Trust,  the Campaign for the Preservation of the Lower Till Valley and the Stonehenge Traffic Action Group that operate in the area of the new road scheme.  Darren Henry as the Wiltshire Council representative for the Till and Wylye Valley is also a key part of the group.

The forum is designed to act as an information conduit from Highways England to the local community and vice-versa.  It looks as though it will address virtually anything and everything that is raised by the community, including issues that arise after the formal consultation period has ended.  It will deal with legacy issues, that will be very important to Winterbourne Stoke,  and which don’t form part of the formal DOC process.

Time will tell if this is a realistic goal, whether it’s overly ambitious. That said, it was quite clear from the tone of the meeting that community representatives want to use the forum to hold Highways England to account.

The forum will not generate minutes, but there will be action points arising from the bi-monthly meetings.  The first meeting was largely taken up with representatives identifying their areas of interest and concern and establishing how the forum would move forward.

The forum is likely to be long-lived – it was suggested that it might be needed until 2026 or later and its current terms of reference can be found here.

If you wish to help us to contribute to the Community Forum, please either join the website forum and add your thoughts to that, send an email or letter to the clerk, or speak to a Parish Councillor.

We are particularly interested in the following things, over and above the actual design and mitigation features of the new road:

What could Highways England do in advance of, and during, road construction to minimise the impact to us and other local communities?

What are our key legacy issues (eg. village infrastructure, non-vehicular connectivity with other local communities and areas such as the World Heritage Site).

There may be other topics that are of general, or specific interest that we have overlooked, so please get your thinking caps on!


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.

A Lot of Furious Paddling

It has been almost a week since we held the Meeting for the Parish to discuss concerns about the proposed A303 bypass routes around Winterbourne Stoke. If everything seems to have gone quiet, rest assured that that is simply an illusion – like the old saw that describes a swan gliding silently along the river, whilst underwater its legs are paddling away furiously, we have been asking further questions and keeping the pressure on both John Glen MP and the Highways Agency. That has been a constant, daily effort.

Many questions were asked last week by villagers, some who supported one or other of the options and others who were desperate for some hard evidence to help them decide; feeling that what Highways England had offered so far was woefully insufficient. John Glen offered to seek answers to many of these questions and to ask Highways England to release some of the information that underpinned the high level assessments of each route in their Technical Appraisal Report (TAR). So far, whilst we have yet to receive an answer to any of the questions posed, or receive any further information, we know that John has been in touch with Highways England on our behalf and asked them for it. Furthermore, he’s been told that Highways England are working on responses to to both our questions and those asked by other interested parties.

Last Saturday at the Manor Barn, and contrary to things that had been said to villagers and Parish Councillors at previous meetings, Highways England finally admitted that they hold information on the predicted noise levels for each property within the 1.2 Km corridor (i.e. 600 metre either side of the centre line) for each of the alternative route Options 1N and 1S. This has been asked for informally through the consultation process and also formally as a Freedom of Information Act request. This is the critical bit of assessment that will give some idea of likely unmitigated sound levels at the properties close to each route and can be used to give at least a little idea of likely sound levels in Winterbourne Stoke in the case of the northern route and both Winterbourne Stoke and Berwick St James in the case of the southern route. It will be interesting to see when and if this information will be provided, either to John Glen or individuals.

One of the other key questions we asked of John was in relation to the relative weights Highways England would put on consultation responses from, say, the occupant of Rivendell, Winterbourne Stoke compared to the occupant of Rivendell in the Upper Hutt Valley in New Zealand. Both are at liberty to respond to the consultation exercise and both can express a preference as to the route. We would like to think that the views of those living locally would count for more than those living further away for instance. In a private response, which we hope John is happy to have repeated here, he said: “It is clear that there will be a very strong emphasis on qualitative responses – not a tally of votes for either option”.

We tackled Andrew Alcorn, Highways England’s Project manager for the scheme on the same issue last Saturday. He also gave reassurance that the route wouldn’t be decided on the basis of a simple vote count, but didn’t give much away when it came to the relative weights of locals (despite their being a box for a postcode on every hardcopy and softcopy response), versus antipodeans and everyone else with a view between here and there, versus pressure groups of every conceivable flavour. We had assumed that, having done this sort of thing in the past, Highways England would have a process in place to handle the qualitative (and sometimes quantitative) feedback it was receiving in a way that could weight responses in relation to the respondent and capture critical information in a logical and formal way. It’s the sort of thing we Brits do very well, we even “invented” the science of Operational Research back in WWII to deal with these sorts of issues. It’s now called Operational Analysis(OA) and has spread into every walk of life from how to arrange goods on supermarket shelves to working out the best GCSE courses to take to maximise your chances of becoming a doctor. OA is frequently used in the field of transport; it’s what the Highways Agency are doing when they model traffic flows like those shown in the displays at the Manor Barn. So Highways England should be well versed in it and there is a whole branch called “soft operational analysis” that deals with the sort of “fluffy”, qualitative information they are going to receive back from the consultation process. Consequently, we were very surprised to hear from Mr Alcorn that Highways England have no specific process in place to tackle these responses. Let’s just hope he is wrong and those charged with doing the work are familiar with the sort of methods that could, and should, be employed.

Highways England have insisted, from the outset, that there is some latitude in the proposals they have put forward. The big question of the week is just how much latitude? Why ask about this sort of thing now? Well, if the degree of latitude meant that the southern route might be sunk in an earth-walled cutting rather than stuck up on a high embankment, or the northern route could be pushed further north and with a similar profile to the route that was found acceptable back in 2005, then folks might look slightly differently about the viability of each of the two routes. The same would be true of the location and design of the interchange with the A360 – how much latitude would there be here? Can this latitude, even at this early stage, be bounded; what would be seen as reasonable and what wouldn’t. If we knew the broad limitations within which Highways England are working, we wouldn’t waste time pushing for the unachievable, how ever sensible such a form of mitigation might appear to us, and decision making would be much easier.

BT’s Response on Superfast Broadband in the Village

Following our email yesterday,  BT’s Bill Murphy immediately undertook to chase things up with the regional team working with Wiltshire Council’s superfast broadband team, on our behalf.   Today (4:00pm on 08/12/2016) we received the following email”

If you can’t read the original above, the important bit says:

“…Work is progressing on bringing fibre broadband to Winterbourne Stoke. There are no outstanding way leave issues but we will need to use a  “mole plough” to install the fibre along part of the route which may require a road closure – the detailed plans are in preparation to identify whether this will be needed.   
We anticipate that the new cabinet will be installed and accepting orders in the spring of next year.

Clearly, this calls into question everything that Terry Young has been told recently by Wiltshire Council officials working for Wiltshire Online.  It will be interesting to see what Wiltshire Online now come up with, as clearly either they or BT are wrong.   Sadly, no information that Wiltshire Online have provided to villagers, in response to legitimate questions, has yet proved reliable.