I am part of a family that has lived between the two villages for more than 30 years. While I am now living in London because of work I have retained my close connection with both villages and come back every other weekend. It might be said that I am therefore both someone who is likely to feel the impact of the A303 bypass proposals both as a part-time resident and regular user of the road. I have no doubt that there is a need for something to be done and that the problem has become more and more acute in recent years.
The proposed bypass of Winterbourne Stoke seeks (according to the Highways England Report) to ‘improve life for local communities’ by ‘reducing the impact of congestion, noise and emissions’ on them. Of the two proposed bypass routes, one (the southern) would seem to remove a blight from one part of the village and put it between two villages and the other (the northern) would move the blight to the side of the village but by doing so create benefit for the greater part of it.
The southern route, something previously suggested and rejected, has greater impact on homes and businesses – the Druid’s Lodge estate would particularly suffer. The cost benefit analysis notes that the adverse impact of the route on the setting of the conservation areas and listed buildings in the two villages would be limited by ‘the landform, intervening buildings, tree belts and the relatively wooded nature of the existing River Till landscape’.
However beneficial the topography and trees (mainly beech so not particularly good at screening anything during winter; the evergreens reflect the fact that Druid’s Lodge is a shooting estate – something unlikely to continue with a dual-carriageway in situ), they cannot realistically be considered to counter the impact of congestion, noise and emissions that will be placed between the two villages. It seems remarkable that such a route is being suggested given its impact on the two villages – for Berwick moving a main road much closer and for Winterbourne simply switching the side on which the road passes it (indeed it might be said for Winterbourne that it is passing its problem over to Berwick).
We already have a sense of the impact of raised sections of the road from the noise that permeates the valley from the section as the A303 leaves Winterbourne Stoke and heads up to Berwick Down. The noise, particularly in the winter with the absence of foliage, is sufficient that it can be heard in Asserton and the side of the village of Berwick St James nearest to the A303. The southern route would bring the road closer to Berwick and includes raised sections. It would have a devastating impact on those living in Berwick while continuing to blight half of Winterbourne Stoke.
From the perspective of a resident of a house between the two villages the prospect of such a route would be even more devastating. The dual-carriageway would be visible from both the back and front paddocks of our property and would certainly increase the noise levels from traffic (we can already hear the existing road, especially during the winter) as well as be detrimental in terms of emission levels (I note, Dad suffers from asthma). It would transform a rural retreat into a rural blight; all that I have loved about the countryside between the two villages would be destroyed – the river Till with its heron and egret; the red kites; the deer and other wildlife.
While it was interesting to see video visualizations of what the proposals might look like, they do not give a proper sense of scale or indeed include a simulation of the likely noise (or at night, light pollution) that would result. I do not think they provided a proper sense of just how significant an impact (a sense of the width of the road for example) the development would have. As someone who drives up and down the A303 every other weekend, I have gained a sense of just how wide the route would need to be: not just the two lanes on either side, but room for a central barrier and the need for something akin to hard shoulders. You only need to drive the route after Stonehenge to gain a proper perspective on how wide it would need to be. Most of the side of the hill would be needed; it would bring the road very close to our small row of houses.
The cost benefit analysis notes that the northern route ‘would still detract from the setting of the conservation area and listed buildings’ and ‘pass close to Parsonage Down’. While accepting that it would merely move an existing blight without entirely solving it, that surely needs to be weighed against the proposal (i.e. the southern route) of simply creating a new blight and impacting two villages instead of one. If passing close to Parsonage Down is given greater weight than the impact of a route on the residents of two villages then that would strike me as a perverse outcome. The Newbury bypass is a good example of a route that had detrimental environmental and conservation impacts but nevertheless went ahead.
The northern route offers some degree of a solution for an existing problem and moves the road away from houses that are already close to the road; the proposed route would impact perhaps two properties by passing close to the periphery of their land and the local farm would certainly suffer. The southern route would have a wider impact on local residents and on both villages and, no matter how beneficial the landform, would be detrimental to the greater number of people.
I would also like to note that while the proposal for a bypass has long been mooted (and indeed at times appeared imminent), these proposals (and particularly the southern option) have come as a surprise to many. It seems somewhat surprising that only at such an advanced stage are the proposals being put to both villages and that a decision on the preferred route is to be made in the summer. There has been very little notice – the first presentation of the proposals at the barn followed only three days after the announcement.
Local residents have long held hope that a bypass would be built; they did not assume that one of the proposed routes would be something worse. There is no easy solution and unfortunately such a project will inevitably impact some homes and families. The southern option stands out for being the option with greatest detrimental impact.