The Highways England Response To Our Request For More Detailed Information

Following the A303 Consultation Meetings of 13th and 14th January, and comments received, Highways England were asked for more detail.  A lot more detail:

…when you scratched away at the surface, there was very little supporting data and no clear indication or commitment that this would be available before the closure of the consultation period on 5th March.  So, in the absence of evidence how can anyone make an informed decision as to the best route?

the response we received was fairly anodyne:

…Can I recommend that anyone who is interested in more technical more supporting information can look at the Technical Appraisal Report which is all on the consultation site and offers a lot more information for people who wish to access it. All eight volumes are listed if you scroll down the page to the Technical Appraisal Report at www.highways.gov.uk/a303stonehenge/consultation . I hope that helps.

If you have any further questions after you have had a look do get in touch on a303stonehenge@highwaysengland.co.uk…

Sadly, whichever side of the debate you might be drawn to, the Technical Appraisal Report and its many appendices contains little hard information, despite its extreme verbosity.  This morning, and following further comments that have been made by villagers, we’ve sent the following reply to Highways England:

…Thank you for your quick response and we will indeed feed further low level questions in to Highway England at a303stonehenge@highwaysengland.co.uk
…However, there is a fundamental high level issue here that underpins the credibility of the work that has been done so far on the A303 Stonehenge Scheme; specifically in relation to the Winterbourne Stoke route options, but one that possibly applies to all the other corridor schemes.  That issue comes down to availability of data.

We expected, and you seem to believe, that something called the Technical Appraisal Report might actually contain some sort of technical detail, underpinning and justifying the routes and their impact.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The TAR and its appendices contain little or no technical detail, particularly when it comes to environmental impacts such as noise, air quality and light pollution from vehicles; no mention at all is made of the latter and only Appendix D deals with noise and air quality in a very cursory way.

Annex D contains, at best a few bald contentions, with no underpinning data, details of methodologies or references to support these contentions.  For example, para 2.2.65 of Annex D states

“A noise analysis was carried out to identify potential changes as a result of the scheme. This was compared to current census data to assess the impact on nearby vulnerable groups. At this stage, the assessment considered changes to the route location along with changes in traffic flow as a result of the scheme.”

The output of this assessment is given in para 3.7.3:

“All options within Corridor D are classed as Moderate Beneficial, as these alignments would remove through traffic from Winterbourne Stoke and noise impacts on this section of the A303. Concentrations of children who would be particularly impacted by these changes have been identified in impacted areas for all alignments”.

Para 2.2.66 of Annex D says very much the same in terms of Air Quality:

“An air quality analysis was carried out to identify potential changes as a result of the scheme. This was compared to current census data to assess the impact on vulnerable groups. At this stage, the assessment considered changes to the route location along with changes in traffic flow as a result of the scheme.”

With the assessment in para 3.7.4:

All options within Corridor D are classed as Moderate Beneficial, as these alignments would remove through traffic from Winterbourne Stoke and air quality impacts on this section of the A303. Concentrations of children who would be particularly impacted by these changes have been identified in impacted areas for all alignments.

So, all very vague and wooly with no evidence presented to show any work has actually been done – save writing the sentences above.

The level of granularity we are seeking when we ask for data, is such that we could give it to an expert in the field for an independent evaluation.  That clearly isn’t possible from the above.  As a bare minimum we wish to be made available:

1.    The methodologies used for these analyses
2.    Evidence for the verification and validation of the methodology by independent subject matter experts
3.    The underpinning assumptions used in the analyses and their derivation.
4.    All raw data sets and evidence of their date and place of origin.

This is not an unusual level of detail, it is the basic stuff of science.  It is simply that necessary to allow a third party to repeat the work and, if it has been conducted appropriately, arrive at the same answer.  We would expect to see that standard models had been used in this work, for instance, the CONCAWE model for the effects of wind propagation on sound, or particulate and vapour transport models.

We provided them with an example of the sort of information detail we were looking for.   You can find it at: http://hayesmckenzie.co.uk/uploads/McKenzie_Bullmore_-_The_effects_of_wind_speed__-_2002.pdf

We need to see data based on multiple sampling points through the village for the existing route of the A303 and the model data for the alternative routes prior to the end of the consultation period in March and in sufficient time for it to be independently validated.  If this information is not currently available, then the assertions made regarding the environmental impact of either the northern are southern routes are unfounded and indefensible.  Effectively, it would mean we are being asked to make a choice based on faith, not evidence…

In the email, we further asked John Glen MP to raise these issues with Secretary of State, Chris Grayling MP and included in our reply Cllr Fleur de Rhé-Philipe, the Wiltshire Council Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Skills, Strategic Transport and Strategic Property.   We have also engaged with Professor Phil Blythe of Newcastle University, the Department for Transport’s Chief Scientific Adviser, as he is the key departmental adviser on issues such as the integrity of science conducted in, and on behalf of, DfT.  We have asked him to comment on both the nature of the work undertaken, its validity, robustness and whether or not the contentions made in the Technical Appraisal Report are, in his opinion, sufficiently detailed to reasonably permit anyone to make an informed choice as to a preferred route.

The responses ought to be telling.  Whilst we’ve focused on just a few aspects of the TAR (noise, pollution and light), we fear the same issue may apply to just about any aspect of the routes you care to ask about.

Watch out for an important announcement of a Meeting of the Parish – we hope to be able to hold it towards the end of next week to discuss the concerns of ALL villagers with the route options being proposed and their potential impacts on the village.

Please note that comments are NOT being accepted on this post.  Villagers, who have registered with the site may comment on the Forum.

A303 Presentation – Lots of Pretty Pictures But Was There Much Substance?

UPDATED: 1600 Mon 16th January

The Parish Council got  an early sight of the Highways England A303 options for Winterbourne Stoke on Friday 13th January (Not a very auspicious date if you are a Triskaidekaphobic!) and many of you took the first opportunity to take a look at the suggested options on the first public viewing on Saturday 14th of January.  We would love to hear what you thought and the best way of letting us know is here on the Forum.

First impressions were that whichever route you might have a preference for, it was all a bit glitzy.  Lots of pretty pictures and maps designed to impress, but when you started to ask questions it all seemed to fall apart a bit.  Smoke and mirrors and little real substance it seemed.

What concerned us on Friday was the absence of any real, hard data.  What would be the impact of either route on the village beyond its physical presence and visual appearance?  What about the noise levels, vehicular pollution such as PM10 particles from diesel engines, light pollution, impact on the 200-year flooding risk, undiscovered archaeology, rational for the vertical location (embankments and cuttings) of each scheme.  The list went on and on?  The answer to most of these questions seemed to be mainly, “We don’t know yet”. Where they did claim to have such data, it wasn’t available and you have to question the wisdom of holding a consultation meeting without providing this type of data.

The big question is, when will they have collected this detailed information and when will it be made available?  Of course, we’ve asked Highways England for all the hard numbers behind their many assertions as to likely impacts, but we find it somewhat bizarre that we are being asked to make an irrevocable choice on the basis of little more than a few pretty pictures.

The level of comprehension of the local area was typified on Saturday when a member of the Highways England team was asked about the current speed limit on the A303.  “50 mph” insisted the chap to a visitor, with all the conviction of a used-car salesman!   That was perhaps the simplest example, but there was a trend in the answers received and the worst calls into question the whole basis of the consultation.  During the Saturday session, a villager asked a member of the Highways England team about whether detailed information about the impact of each route on the village would be made available before consultation closed on the 5th of March – a reasonable question one might think.  After a bit of tooth-sucking, the chap wandered off to “consult someone more senior” and never came back with the answer.  Actually, it was worse than that, the chap didn’t reappear for the 30 minutes the villager hung round waiting for them! Not very encouraging.

Few of those Highway England staff questioned seemed to have the faintest idea of how the physical location of the village, the terrain, the meteorology, the current route of the A303 and the two proposed routes would impact on a whole host of factors that villagers might have been expected to have an interest in.  Those sort of things that are going to affect on their day-to-day lives, their enjoyment of their homes, their recreation, their businesses and their health.  All this applies whichever route is ultimately chosen and it all is needed to inform a decision as to the best route, even at this stage.

UPDATE: 1600 Mon 16th January

We have seen the following comments from a villager from Berwick St James which accords with comments made above:

“…We spent about an hour with the acoustics consultant discussing the southern route but she was unable to say to what extent noise from traffic would be heard in Berwick St James.  The reason, she said, was that full studies had not been done and will not be done until a final decision on the route is made…”

This seems to be true for both routes which, as we wrote above, calls into question how we are supposed to make an objective route selection when no data is yet available.

The UK’s Worst-Kept Secret: A Stonehenge Tunnel and Bypass For Winterbourne Stoke

As late as last night we were still being told by Highways England that the Press conference releasing the news on what was going to be put forward for the A303 Stonehenge Scheme Public Consultation was not until 10:30 this morning and that any story was embargoed until then.  Despite this, but not too much of a surprise given events over the last few days, in the early hours of this morning, the story that Stonehenge is to get a tunnel and Winterbourne Stoke to get a bypass broke in the national and international Press.

So, we have the big picture which we suspect will come as a surprise to no-one in the village.  The devil, however, is in the detail and none is available as yet.  The websites below are now live and you can see details of both the Stonehenge Scheme and a northern and southern option for bypassing Winterbourne Stoke

https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/cip/a303-stonehenge/

or:

http://www.highways.gov.uk/a303stonehenge/consultation

When we do get the detail, it is probably going to take some time to understand exactly what is being proposed and the possible impacts the alternative proposals might have on the village and we will want to hear your views as quickly as possible; there is now a Forum Topic on A303 Public consultation that you can engage with here – once you have registered on the website.  If you want to participate manually, then please send your hardcopy response to the Parish Clerk – details at the foot of the Home page.   Please do NOT try to comment directly on this post – comments have been blocked.  If you wish to engage in the debat on this topic, please use the Forum instead and Register if you haven’t done so already – the Forums are only open to residents of Winterbourne Stoke.

Highways England are hosting a public event at the Manor Barn, Winterbourne Stoke, on Saturday 14th January between 11 and 5pm and we very much hope you will attend. There are also plenty of other events locally (see details below) if you are unable to attend this Saturday, including another event in Winterbourne Stoke on Jan 27th.

Don’t forget we also have a Parish Council Meeting on Monday 16th  January at 7:00pm in the Solstice Rest where you can raise questions and we will be looking at ways in which we can ensure your voice is heard.

 

 

A303 Stonehenge Scheme Public Consultation: Twiddling Our Thumbs

Well, the one thing we can say for certain about the planned A303 Stonehenge Scheme Public Consultation is that the silence from Highways England is pretty deafening.   Parishioners are left twiddling their thumbs and local, national and international reporters are left sharpening and re-sharpening their pencil stubs.

One thing has emerged that we can deal with whilst we wait and that is the process that is being followed.  There is still an awful lot of misunderstanding of what is happening, and what is going to happen, as evidenced by comments such as: “…come the Public Inquiry…”  Highways England have produced a very useful document that shows how it all works.  You might want to take the opportunity to read it.  For a government document, its a remarkably easy read.

A303 Stonehenge Scheme Public Consultation – Does Confusion Reign?

We promised to keep parishioners abreast of developments in relation to the public consultation on the A303 Stonehenge scheme – being so close, as it is, to village interests.  That was on Thursday 5th January. We also were led to believe then that briefings on the consultation were going to start between the 13th of January and the 8th of February.

We now understand that late in the evening on Friday 6th January, a rather terse communique was issued on behalf of Highways England that said:

“that public consultation will not start on Monday 9 January”.

Although brief, in bureaucrat-speak it says an awful lot.  Reading between the lines we can assume what this really means is:

We’ve had a bit of a last minute glitch to the long standing plan to start the public consultation on the A303 Stonehenge scheme on Monday 9th January, a date you’ve all been geared up for, but its not now going to happen”.

We will try and find out what is going on and the nature of the glitch.  The first indication may be content appearing on the two web landing pages given in our last posting and repeated for your convenience below:

https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/cip/a303-stonehenge/

or:

http://www.highways.gov.uk/a303stonehenge/consultation

We will alert you to any further developments we are made aware of.

A303 Consultation Begins

At a meeting of the Stonehenge Traffic Action Group  (STAG) this evening (5th Jan),  Ian West advised the meeting that he had been told earlier in the day by John Glen MP that the Highways England A303 improvement consultation exercise was imminent.   We are led to understand that “events” will be held at the Manor Barn, Winterbourne Stoke on the 13th and 14th January and at Shrewton Rec the following week.  There is little detail at present, but Highways England advised the Parish Council that this will follow imminently and the first public indications are likely to found at:

https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/cip/a303-stonehenge/

or:

http://www.highways.gov.uk/a303stonehenge/consultation

We will provide updates here, as and when they are available.  However, as of 07:15am on Friday 6th January, neither of these landing pages is yet active.  This may suggest the formal starting gun has not yet been fired.

Out With The Old, In With The New!

A happy, prosperous and peaceful New Year to you all; 2017 has arrived.

It is likely to turn out to be a very important year for Winterbourne Stoke.  Possibly this will be one of the most important years in the long history of the village as it should herald changes that will impact on the fabric of our day to day lives.  They are likely to introduce a range of social changes that we need to grasp and embrace to fully benefit from, or, we can try and fight against them through fear of change and risk losing many of the advances and advantages that such change can bring.

Of course, not all change is necessarily good and we are all going to have to look very carefully at what is going on and weigh things up carefully.  Even that isn’t going to be straightforward, as we need to think not only about how these changes are going to impact us, but also how they will affect our children, our grandchildren and generations not yet imagined.

So, what are these events that are going to be so important?

First, we have the coming of Superfast broadband.  It’s long overdue and many villagers are going to embrace even a modest improvement in speed with open arms, provided the service is reliable.  Hopefully, the whole of the core of the village should get speeds of 24 Mbps or above.   Those of you who have had access to reasonable broadband speeds at work and outside the village generally will know of at least some of the benefits this type of service can bring and there are many more to come: from education and health, to social inclusivity and recreation.  Even those who fight against the tide will notice the benefits as faster broadband speeds impact on house prices and attract businesses which would not be viable without such improvements in speed.  More business may lead to more jobs and a diversification of employment.

Second, is the A303.  The Highways England plan to create a world-class Expressway to link the south west and south east of England is well underway.  They are planning to go out to public consultation on the possible routes early this year where we will all be able to have our say.  After the consultation, Highways England plan to combine the feedback received with further technical analysis (a lot has been going on in the background over the last year!) and they will use this to decide their “preferred route” and this will be formally put to the Secretary of State for Transport this summer.  With luck, the Development Consent Order process will be completed and work will begin in 2020.

Just like the Superfast broadband, it will bring benefits in communication, and accessibility.  It has the potential to improve lives, health and quality of life for villagers.  Moving the A303 from the heart of the village may impact positively on house prices, but may have a negative effect on some of the businesses like the garage and the pub which may need to evolve to survive.  That said, the same change will introduce possibilities for new businesses that would not be possible with the existing infrastructure.

The key to Winterbourne Stoke making the most of these changes is engagement and timeliness.  We need to engage early, with each other, with all the bodies and organisations who are going to be involved and we need to make our voices heard – collectively and individually.  Your Parish Council will do its part, but we need everyone to do their bit.

In the past, change has been slow in rural communities, sometimes even glacial.  That isn’t going to be the case for us over the next few years.  We aren’t going to have the luxury of pontificating on things for weeks, or months on end.  Information and decisions are going to be needed in days at most, if not hours.  If you think this is a bit of hyperbole, think again.  The Highways Agency now has a Twitter feed for improvements to the A303 Stonehenge section.  The traditional ways of engagement are simply too slow and cumbersome in today’s world, so we will have to play the game with the rules in the new rule book, not the rules we might wish to have.

If we do this well and responsibly, we can leave a legacy to be proud of.

Onboard and Online

Now although the majority of villagers have access to the internet, it hasn’t escaped our attention that there may be those who don’t, or who do have access, but don’t yet feel confident enough to get involved with the Parish Council and other villagers on the Parish Council Website.  There may be a host of other reasons keeping people from engaging and it may simply be that they prefer the old ways of doing things.  To make sure everyone is included, we are introducing Onboard and Online; a new section of the village noticeboard in Church Street.  Highlights of information that has appeared on the website will be posted on the noticeboard, at intervals, as will an outline of topics that have been raised by the Parish Council, or Parishioners, in the Forum.  If people want to engage with the Parish Council on these topics, then they can do so by contacting Jim Carr, the Parish Clerk at:

1 Cleeve View
Winterbourne Stoke
Salisbury
SP3 4SY

Phone: 07973 366762

Email: clerk@winterbournestokepc.org.uk

or buttonhole any of the Parish Councillors!

Similarly, if you haven’t seen the website https://winterbournestokepc.org.uk/ and would like to do so, then again, feel free to ask one of the Parish Councillors who would be delighted to show you.

Digital Inclusion

One of our aims going forward is to encourage as many villagers as we can to get online.  Love it or loathe it, the digital world is here to stay and it will impact on every area of our lives – from the cradle to the grave.  We are in the early stages of considering whether to offer a bit of FREE training on PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones.  We already have a “Digital Champion”, a member of the UK Digital Champion Network in the village, who is prepared to give some time to this.  In addition to showing you how to get the most out of the Parish Council website, this can help you with any or all of the following:

 

  •   Using a computer for the first time and understanding the mouse and keyboard
  •   Using email, Skype or Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family
  •   Ordering your groceries and having them delivered to your door
  •   Searching and applying for jobs online
  •   Researching your hobbies and interests
  •   Using price comparison websites to find the best deals on everything from car insurance, to utilities
  •   Booking appointments with your doctor or hospital online
  •   Looking up bus and train times and finding the cheapest fares, flights and hotel rooms
  •   Organising and storing your digital photos and other documents
  •   Writing letters and printing and scanning documents
  •   Getting the latest news, sport and weather forecasts, or catching up on your favourite TV or radio programmes
  •   Accessing government services, such as taxing your car, renewing your library books, checking your rubbish collection days and paying your Council Tax.

We need to know the level of demand for this before moving forward.  It might be that a computer group is best if the demand is high, or one-on-one tuition if not.   Of course, you don’t need to learn in the village and Wiltshire Council, through its Wiltshire Online initiative are providing the same Digital Champion Network training at computer clubs across Wiltshire:

  • Bradford on Avon Library, Mondays, 2pm-4pm
  • Chippenham, Salvation Army Hall, Foghamshire, Tuesdays, 1:15pm-2:45pm
  • Corsham Library, Wednesdays term time only from 2pm-4pm (2pm-3pm supported by 6th form students from Corsham School)
  • Cricklade Leisure Centre on Mondays at 10am-12pm
  • Devizes Library on Mondays term time only 3:30pm – 5pm (supported by 6th form students from Devizes school)
  • Malmesbury Library, Wednesdays term time only from 3.30pm – 5pm
  • Melksham Library on Thursdays 5.30pm – 7pm
  • Mere Library on first Tuesday of the Month 2 – 4, Angel Tea Rooms – 3rd Wednesday of the month 3 – 4
  • Shrewton Maddington Church Rooms monthly – see notice board for more information
  • Tisbury Sacred Heart Parish Rooms 2nd and 4th Wednesday 10 – 12
  • Winterslow Truffles Cafe, Winterslow village Hall, check with venue

Please register before going along to any of these on 0300 456 0100 or email digitalinclusion@wiltshire.gov.uk as places are limited.

If you are interested in the sorts of training shown above, please contact the Clerk (details above), or any Parish Councillor by 15th January 2017.

Specialist Help for the Disabled and Older Persons

Specialist computer assistance and training can be provided FREE, in your own home, for the disabled and the elderly, through Ability Net.   Simply call 0800 269 545 (Freephone) during normal UK Office Hours.

Current Forum Topics

There are two topics initiated by the Parish Council where input is being sought from Parishoners:

  1. The Red Phonebox – what should we do with it?
  2. A Defibrillator for the village – if we get one (and it may be FREE) where should it be sited.

Two topics have been initiated by Villagers:

  1. TDY is concerned there may be a lack of interest in village affairs.  Is that the case?
  2. Joy Horne is concerned that with the change of management and image at the Bell Inn, now the Solstice Rest,  we appear to have lost our village pub as it seems to be closed more often than it is open in the evening.   What are your views.

If you have views on any of the topics above, just jot something down on paper (handwriting is fine, providing its legible) together with your name (so we know you are a real villager!) and a nickname if you want to be anonymous on the Forum.  Pass these on to the Clerk or any Parish Councillor and we will do the rest and scan your views and put them on the website for all to see and comment on.

New Forum Topics

You can initiate a new Forum topic online if you are a registered user, in writing as outlined above, or verbally by coming along to the Villager’s Questions section of a Parish Council Meeting – in this day and age we can’t accept verbal input direct to an individual councillor or the Clerk due to the lack of an audit trail.  The next Parish Council Meeting is scheduled for 19:00 on Monday 16th January and we hope to hold it in the Solstice Rest.

Update on the Website

We have been getting a good number of hits and page views since the website went live and earlier in the week we received our first US visitor.  As of this afternoon we have had over 100 discrete visitors and each visitor has looked at on average 8 different pages.  This is statistically equivalent to every villager visiting the site at least once.

We have 9 subscribers to the Newsletter and 20 registered forum users.

A few people have had minor difficulties registering to use the forum.  We are not sure why this is, and it may simply be the need to check your email Inboxes and Spam boxess to see if you have been allowed on to the site proper.  Anyway, if you have an issue,  get in touch as we can sort it out very quickly – Joy Horne,  John Summerhayes. White Rabbit and rwpalmer have all been helped to get registered today.

Thanks to Joy Horne for spotting a teething trouble.  Some of the Comments on the News are not appearing correctly – some of the words are hidden.  We’ve asked theis to be corrected asap.  Please let us know if you come across any other minor problems like this.

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