I hope that Thursday’s village meeting to discuss both A303 bypass options encourages constructive debate, that everybody feels free to voice their opinions in a congenial manner and that we end the evening with some constructive action points that may lead to Highways England improving aspects of the proposed scheme, be it the northern or southern bypass route.

I think it’s also important to remember, that irrespective of which bypass option is eventually chosen by the Government, that W-S residents will hopefully enjoy some tangible benefits from the bypass. Local traffic congestion should be eased, road safety improved, noise levels reduced for those living adjacent to the current A303, a significant number of residents will enjoy a boost to their property prices and “village life” will be improved. No more will you have to take your life in your hands when crossing the road!
But there will also likely be some downsides to a northern or southern bypass route. The garage, which derives 90% of its turnover from passing traffic, will likely be forced to close. The same concerns face the Solstice Rest, which is unlikely to be able to survive in its current form solely on the basis of trade from the village. Nor is the selection of a northern or southern bypass likely to instantly enable Winterbourne Stoke to “ re-gain its heart” as the HE consultation booklet hopes or solve the continuing problem of a lack of any village hall or meeting place.

Andy has raised some excellent points in his most recent comments. I would like to see Thursday’s meeting address a number of key issues about the northern and southern routes and reduce their potentially negative impact on the village. As far as the northern route is concerned, what measures can be taken by HE to ensure that the potential negative impact on local businesses (Manor Farm and Scotland Lodge in particular) are minimised? What measures can HE take to reduce the height of the proposed viaduct over the River Till? What measures can be taken to reduce the height of embankments on the northern route to lessen the visual impact of the dual carriageway on village properties. Finally, what measures can HE take to reduce the potential negative impact of noise and air pollution in the village? As far as the southern route is concerned, what measures can HE take to reduce the adverse impact on Druid’s Lodge and the Stonehenge campsite and mitigate its impact on the residents of Berwick St James and Winterbourne Stoke?

I’d also like Thursday’s forum to not be driven purely by self-interest and , if possible,consider the impact of a southern or northern route on the wider community. As Andy points out, we are not faced with a purely binary choice. A southern route might benefit some residents of Winterbourne Stoke, but it is going to affect two villages (Winterbourne and Berwick) rather than one, and have as great or greater impact on local businesses, the landscape, public rights of way and people’s quality of life as a northern route.

Andy has raised some good points in his comments about the northern route. It’s certainly far from perfect and there are a lot of areas where it could be improved. I also think it’s important to be clarify some of the facts about the merits of the northern vs the southern route:

1. “On the northern route there would be few opportunities to mitigate the noise”. I think this is highly debateable. While it is unclear how traffic noise from a viaduct over the Till could be entirely eliminated, reducing the height of the viaduct from 12m, could have some positive impact. The Till viaduct is only a small section of the overall length of the bypass (6km) and there appear to be ample opportunities on the northern route for HE to mitigate noise by reducing the level of embankments, increasing the depth of cuttings and following the natural contours of the surrounding landscape including the fold in the land between Scotland Lodge and Manor Farm.

2. “Most of the problems (noise pollution, visibility) would not occur on the southern route”. Again I think this is highly debateable. Both routes are the same distance (6km), and have similar lengths of raised viaduct above the flood plain of the River Till. Both routes have sections of raised embankments which is likely to increase traffic noise and the visibility of the dual carriageway from neighbouring properties.

3. “The Southern (bypass) route is particularly attractive as it moves the A303 from the centre of the parish to its southern border, thereby re-joining the two halves of the village as far as high speed traffic goes”. The northern route would actually have exactly the same impact as the southern route in re-joining the two halves of the village, the only difference with the southern route being that with a northern route being that it would shift the A303 to the northern border! The main difference between the two routes in terms of local access, is that a southern route would sever the links with Berwick, cutting the footpaths which are used by a significant number of residents of both communities, destroying the historic links that have joined the two villages for hundreds of years and potentially leaving a legacy of mistrust and ill will between the two communities, as 100% of Berwick residents appear to oppose a southern route.

4. “It (the northern route) has the huge advantage of maintaining our links with the WHS and the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, links that would be severed by the northern route”. In my view preserving the links with Berwick are far more important than preserving the village’s links to the Stonehenge Visitor Centre. Anyway what are the advantages of maintaining our links with the WHS? Winterbourne Stoke derives minimal benefit from the coach loads of tourists who are bussed in and out of the WHS apart from the benefit of passing traffic to the pub and garage. When was the last time a coach load of tourists stopped for lunch at the Solstice Rest? As far as I can see, a northern route would have zero impact on the village’s links with the WHS. You will still be able to drive to the visitor centre via Shrewton and you will still, if you want, be able to walk (albeit somewhat indirectly) to the Stonehenge Visitor centre by going up the footpath past Manor Farm on to Rollestone and along the A344. There is currently no direct footpath linking Winterbourne Stoke to the WHS/Stonehenge Visitor centre, so a northern route wouldn’t sever such a link!

5. “The Northern route has some highly negative impacts on farming and other land usage”. I think this is undeniably true and we should examine all the ways that this damage can be mitigated so that Manor Farm and Scotland Lodge do not suffer any economic damage if a northern bypass route is chosen. However, it’s maybe also worth remembering that a southern route is arguably going to have an even greater negative impact on land usage and businesses in Berwick. Druid’s Lodge Farm would be severed, the cattle units beyond Oatlands Farm might have to be closed, there would be a significant negative impact on the shooting operations on the Druid’s Lodge which attracts significant business to the local community particularly the Boot pub and the Berwick farm shop. A southern route would also have a hugely negative impact on the Stonehenge Campsite, (the nearest campsite for visitors to Stonehenge), as it would only be around 200m away.

6. “Consequently the southern route is perceived as the best option to ensure current farming practices can continue”. A southern route would clearly benefit farming practices in Winterbourne Stoke, but would have just as much if not more of a negative impact on farming practices in Berwick on Druid’s Head Farm. Access to the cattle units on Horse Down would be severed and the farm road which links the Hill Farm cottages to Druid’s Head Farm would be severed.

7. Relative costs of a northern and southern route. The costs of both bypass routes are broadly similar at between £1.129b and £1.802bn and the benefit to cost ratios (1.4-1.6 v 1.3-1.5) are broadly similar. The vast majority of the cost of the Amesbury to Berwick Down A303 improvement scheme lies in the cost of excavating the Stonehenge Tunnel and redeploying the tunnel waste (which costs £140 a ton to remove offsite.) Highways England haven’t broken down the precise cost of each part of the scheme, so we don’t actually know how much a northern bypass route would cost compared to a southern route. What we can say, is that the difference in costs isn’t likely to be that material when set against the overall cost of the project and shouldn’t have a significant bearing on which bypass route is ultimately chosen. The good news is that Winterbourne Stoke isn’t picking up the tab for the entire project and the vast majority of villagers should enjoy a significant (10% according to an estate agent I have spoken to) increase in property values once the bypass is built.