You might think from reading these forum pages that the village only had an interest in one route, the northern one, whereas the reality is very different. Back to that in a little while. It’s worth taking a moment though to step back a little and remember that whilst everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute here on the forum, not all choose to do so. They may prefer to operate in a very different way and that is their choice. It doesn’t make their views and preferences any less important than those who choose to contribute. That said, it’s better those views are aired in one way or another, so we can all walk a mile in each other shoes.
Now anyone who thinks this village has a simple binary view of the choice we appear to be faced with is about as wrong as it is possible to be; and then some. Yes, we have folks who prefer the southern route and others who prefer the northern route. We have those who simply want a bypass and the route is very much a secondary issue and any will do. Some simply don’t care and others seem not to be interested in having a bypass at all. Others would settle for anything that wouldn’t make their perception of road noise any worse than it is now is. Some people are voting with their hearts and others with their heads, many have an internal conflict between the two and are struggling to rationalise what to do for the best. All of them have a viewpoint that needs to be aired and questions that need to be asked.
So, having had a large dose of one of the polar extremes views, lets look at the other. There are some very compelling reasons why the southern route would be better for Winterbourne Stoke and these do need to be dragged into the open.
At its most basic it comes down to one of impact. You might think those living on the northern edge of the village would be pleased simply to have a bypass a bit further north than is the current road. It would reduce noise and inconvenience and look better wouldn’t it? Maybe, maybe not. Although it would be further away, there are four lanes rather than two and vehicles travelling at 70 mph rather than the 40mph of the current limit. The road runs close to many of those properties north of the current A303 and there is a monstrous viaduct running over the River Till flood plain. Because the flood plain at this point is so wide and the viaduct much higher than the roadways in previous schemes, the noise propagation would be dreadful. On the northern route there would be few opportunities to mitigate the noise, as earth berms could not be used due to the Till being an SSI. Most of these problems would not occur with the southern scheme and in any event, noise mitigation measures could be much more effective there if Highways England were prepared to install earth barriers like those used at Steeple Langford on the A36. The sound proofing there is so effective that virtually no road noise is discernible from the school, which all but backs on to the A36. Similar measures applied to the southern route would also raise the horizon, meaning it could not be seen or heard from either Winterbourne Stoke or Berwick St James. This would require a lot of tunnel spoil and possibly much more than could be employed on the northern route.
The southern route is particularly attractive as it moves the A303 from the centre of the parish to its southern border, thereby rejoining the two halves of the village as far as high speed traffic goes. It has the huge advantage of maintaining our links with the World Heritage Site and the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, links that would be severed by the northern route.
The northern route has some highly negative impacts on farming and other land usage. The livery at Scotland Lodge Farm would be hindered from using its traditional rides to the north and Waves Training, who have brought so many new job opportunities to the village might not follow through with further development plans. Perhaps the biggest impact of the northern route would be on Manor Farm; this would be cut in two by the northern route. It wouldn’t just be the loss of land to the road itself, but all the additional land needed for cutting and embankments. Roads like this can also generate a lot of contaminated water from fuel, rubber and salt. This can’t be simply dumped into the River Till, so more land would be needed for soakaways and reed beds to provide natural waste treatment. Farming practises with respect to the breeding and raising of beef cattle have been developed over the years to use the land, buildings and tracks to maximum effect – moving cattle between fields as they develop. Easy and rapid access to buildings, field boundaries and track ways would be inhibited by the bypass. This alone could render the current beef operation non-viable. Previous planners for a northern bypass of the village have been reluctant to even consider ways of mitigating the impact of severance on the farm, and there is little confidence that the current planners would do so now. Consequently, the southern route is perceived as the best option to ensure current farming practises can continue. If beef farming proved to be non-viable, then the farm would be forced to diversify in ways that would be unpredictable and not necessarily in the long term interests of the village, or villagers.
Finally, we have the relative cost of the two schemes. Buried in the HE bumpf, you can find that the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of the two schemes is different. The BCR is basically the pounds put back into the economy for every pound invested in the road. After all factors are taken into consideration, HE believe that the northern route would have a BCR of 1.7 to 1.8, or £1.70 to £1.80 returned to the economy for every pound spent. However, the southern route would have a BCR of 1.80 to 2.0. That doesn’t sound a huge difference, but on a spend of £1.385 billion the southern route could return an extra £0.4 billion.
Hopefully, these ideas and others will be expanded on in the coming days and weeks.