We’ve been deliberately slow to react to the news last Thursday (12/11/2020) from the Department for Transport that Secretary of State, Grant Shapps, had decided to approve the Development Consent Order for the A303 Stonehenge Scheme. The reason for this is that we wanted to take the time to read both the Recommendation Report from the Examining Authority (EA which is akin to War and Peace) and also the Secretary of State Decision Letter approving the plan; these can be found here at https://infrastructure.planninginspectorate.gov.uk/projects/south-west/a303-stonehenge/
We would suggest you take the time to read at least Chapters 7 and 10 of the EA report and all of the Shapps letter to get an idea of what has been approved.
You will have seen the furore from some quarters around the fact that whilst the EA recommended that the SofS should turn down the DCO, having taken further advice he decided in favour of it. This is an example of having a series of checks and balances in a democratic process. If the Sof S was simply going to rubber-stamp the EAs recommendation, why send the recommendation to the Sof S at all? It wouldn’t be necessary. Grant Shapps has shown the DCO system works and is not just a paper exercise.
One way or another, the decision is going to have an impact on all our lives over the next five or so years and that is going to be in the full glare of the local, national and international Press. The Parish Council has engaged with everyone from the Valley News, to ITN, the BBC and even Al Jazeera, who despatched a reporter and cameraman to our village. Of course, it’s never over until the fat lady sings and those of us who have seen plans for a bypass for Winterbourne Stoke wither on the vine previously are a little circumspect about what happens next. Indeed, may of you will have seen and read the threats to take the decision to Judicial Review. Another reason to delay a response was to allow us to get a better understanding of the process before we made any comment. We’ve now had that advice and you might find it interesting.
Basically, a Judicial Review allows those opposed to the idea to challenge the decision itself. It is really important to understand that the merits of the scheme proposed in the DCO cannot be challenged under the Judicial Review process; that is done and dusted. Any Judicial Review would be brought against Sof S and has to be registered by Christmas Eve. There are only 3 allowable reasons for permitting a Judicial Review and these break down to:
- Procedural impropriety
- Unreasonableness or irrationality
The reason for suggesting you should read the letter from Grant Shapps in its entirety is to give you a feel for the lengths that he and DfT have gone to, to undermine all those possible avenues of attack from the outset.
So, subject to the outcome of any Judicial Review, Highways England hope to be getting things underway with the advance works in late Spring next year.
They will be looking to identify local businesses who can help with the supply chain for the main contractors when work proper gets underway. They are keen to ensure that the local economy is boosted as a priority and whether its accomodation, food or concrete, there will be opportunities to become involved.
In the meantime, in late Spring Osborne (the company responsible for the recent M27 bridge replacement and much else besides) will get to grips with the advance works. Locally to the village, that is going to involve extending the new water main from Shrewton, eastwards to Longbarrow roundabout to supply the compund processing chalk spoil from the tunneling activities. They are also going to start the changes to Rollestone junction that will de-emphasise the rat-run through Shrewton; this is regarded as a priority activity that must be sorted out before the scheme proper begins. Osborne may also be involved in creating a small compound off the B3083, but it is not yet clear if that will be needed by the main contractor. Further east, and east of Countess roundabout, Allington track will be closed off from the A303; there will be a new route through Solstice Park making the A303 a little bit safer. Changes will also be made to an intercepting road to the north of the A303.
We hope that gives you a little flavour for what might happen next. Highways England are also looking at ways they can bring you more information despite COVID-19. We will let you know how things develop, but it is likely to be a Zoom meeting.