The Parish Council has today uploaded its response to the A303 Stonehenge Scheme Public Consultation to the Documents section of this website. This has had to be split into two parts because of size limitations. The quick link to Part 1 is here and the link to Part 2 is here.
From the outset, it is important to note that this is not the response the Parish Council would have wished to have made. We have said from the outset, back in mid-January, that we were not going to indicate a preference for one route proposal or another, as we had quickly learned the feelings of the village were divided in a non-binary way and the majority of those to whom we spoke, or who had contacted us, wanted more information on which to base an informed decision. So whilst we were not going to presume to tell you what the best solution for you, your families or the village was going to be, we did want to provide you with as much factual information as we could to help you come to that decision.
Lobbyists for both route options have, quite understandably, been active in the village; we wouldn’t expect any less; it’s an important issue that will impact on lives irrevocably and for some the consequences could be disastrous. It’s possible, even likely, that the lobbyists have won folks over to their respective causes – we wouldn’t presume to say how they’ve done this – but this is not an election, it’s not a simple numbers game. Highways England insist, somewhat ironically, that the route selection will be evidence based and that your reasoned concerns as expressed in your responses to the consultation are what really matter; in theory, one good argument from Mrs Miggins could prove to be a show stopper. Of course, Highways England will know every respondents route preference by postcode – they don’t need the Parish Council to tell them that- and they are unlikely to be unduly influenced by seeing the same formulaic answer for the umpteenth time. Nor would the numbers have necessarily helped the Parish Council – our role is to represent the interests of the whole community and those interests are the same, regardless of which route is ultimately chosen – ideally that the bypass should not worsen the lives of any villagers and would, hopefully, improve the lives of all. But to discharge that role we needed information.
We had believed, from the initial responses of Highways England, that the questions posed by the Parish Council and parishioners alike, would be answered quickly, expansively and informatively. Instead, we have been met with delay, denial and obfuscation. Despite a considerable amount of effort, not a single question has been answered in a way that would allow us to put more information in front of you.
Even when, through the good offices of John Glen MP, we managed to secure a meeting with Highways England for Parish representatives from Winterbourne Stoke, Shrewton and Berwick St James, we were not allowed to have copies of the view foils used by Highways England as they did not believe we, or you would be able to interpret that information “in context”. Last week, a formal request to Highways England under the Freedom of Information Act, to ask for their predictions of noise impact for each of the routes, was delayed . The reason? Well, that seems to be that they don’t think it is in the public interest to tell you!
Representatives of Highways England have said, from the outset, that they had conducted no baseline surveys for noise, pollution etc. They have also told us, individually and collectively in meetings that no historical data was available that could have been used to check and at least partially validate their claims. Shortly before our meeting with them on 23rd February, we were made aware of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted for the last bypass scheme back in 2003 which was said to contain much of this important baseline information. This was raised specifically with Highways England who denied both having a copy, or having access to a copy. Worrying that information gathered at huge expense to the public purse has been lost or thrown away.
Despite what we had been told, we refused to believe that such valuable material was not available from somewhere. Help came from two unlikely directions – a member of the World Heritage Site Committee who recalled seeing a copy in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham and someone at the now defunct Salisbury District Council who had the foresight to deposit their copy in the archive. We were able to see it for the first time only on 1st March. It contains a wealth of material that, whichever bypass option you might favour, you need to see. You need to see it for a whole raft of reasons, not least to show you the sort of baseline information you might have expected to see even at this stage of the project. You would also have seen the sort of preliminary impact predictions that were available even then. Very different to the level of information we have been offered thus far. If you want to take a look for yourselves, go to the History Centre, get a day pass, and ask for file G29Add29 – Salisbury District Council – Stonehenge A303 Improvement Public Inquiries (sic!). The EIA comes in 9 volumes and you can get pages photocopied at 55p a page, or better, buy a photography license for £8.50 per day.
As a consequence of all of the above, the Parish Council feel that even asking for people to state a preference at this stage is inappropriate, as it cannot be done in an informed way. Yes, as individuals we can all have a preference based on our own imperative concerns, views and opinions, but no official information has been provided to answer the most basic question of: “How might each of the proposed routes affect me, my family and my village”. The best Highways England have to offer is from the top level of their economic model which claims that there is little to choose between the two options. Like all models, it is a case of garbage in and garbage out! That is why we are pressing for an extension to the consultation period to allow Highways England to collect the data we believe essential, to allow them to present it to you in a way that addresses your legitimate questions and concerns and lets you and us make an informed choice.
You have only hours left to make a response, electronically, to Highways England. If you haven’t yet done so, please do so, asap!