Winterbourne Stoke Cut Off From The (Digital) World: The Dark Ages Return

The irony of this post is not wasted upon us, as those it is of most interest to are the ones least likely to be able to read it at the moment.   Over the last couple of weeks, BT Openreach contractors have been beavering away, making the final infrastructure provisions to bring the fibre-optic cable from the BT exchange in Shrewton to the DSLAM (the new green box) on the verge of the A303 close to the entrance to the Manor House.

Yesterday (19 July 2017), they were mole-ploughing in the ducting for the fibre on the south of the B3083 close to the junction with the A303; a matter of a few hundred metres at most.   What could possibly go wrong?


Despite carefully surveying the route, the contractors appear to have put the mole-plough through the old and festering aluminium telephone cable, thereby cutting off Winterbourne Stoke from the outside world.

BT first told us that they were waiting for specialist engineers to arrive to work out where the break was and that it wouldn’t be fixed until Friday 21st July.  Later in the day, a relative of a vulnerable villager who is reliant on a land-line service for emergency situations, was told it was going to be fixed either last night, or this morning.  As of  0900 on 20 July, the telephone lines lie silent.

What is quite frightening is just how reliant and vulnerable we all are when it comes to communications.  Yes, many of us have mobile phones as well as land-lines, but the coverage in the village isn’t perfect and they can’t always be depended on.   Some facilities, like emergency alarm systems for the sick and elderly, only work with a land-line (or fibre) so when the telephone line fails, we have no back-up.

We have villagers awaiting phone calls relating to urgent medical appointments.  Because the lines have been cut, the caller simply hears the phone ringing and ringing and ringing.  They can’t get through or leave a message.  Relatives may try and call family members and also can’t get through.

The broadband fails as we do not have fibre. People who normally work from home, can’t.  Files can’t be uploaded or downloaded – deadlines can be missed.

Of course, if we had a reliable mobile service, mobile broadband would be an option for some – at a price.  Even then, many have this facility on a mobile phone, but may not have the facility or knowledge to “tether” a desktop or laptop to their phone.

One of the most important reasons for our drive to get fibre to the village was to allow us some redundancy in communications.   We will get there, and we hope it will be soon.

If any villagers need to send urgent emails or files whilst the village is cut off, please contact a Parish Councillor and we will see what we can do to help.   Similarly, if you can read this and we are still disconnected from land-lines,  please check on your neighbours to see if they have any communications problems we might be able to help with.

Government Looking at Private Finance to Improve the A303 – Delays Seem Inevitable

Villagers may be very interested to made aware of the 2017 Annual Report on the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP) from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA),  published yesterday (18 July 2017) by the Cabinet Office.

Buried in one of the supporting documents is the following text relating to the Stonehenge to Berwick Down A303 Project:

Construction of twin-bored tunnel of at least 1.8 miles as the road passes Stonehenge coupled with a dual carriageway bypass for Winterbourne Stoke to link the existing dual carriageway section around Amesbury with the dual carriageway at Berwick Down. Project aims are: – To create a high quality route between the South East and the South West that meets future needs of traffic – To enable growth in jobs and housing by providing a free-flowing and reliable connection between the South East and the South West – To help conserve and enhance the World heritage site and to make it easier to reach and explore – To improve biodiversity and provide a positive legacy for nearby communities.

The red delivery confidence rating (This means:Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable. There are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable. The project may need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed. ED) that was awarded at Gateway 1 reflects the complexity of the project. To improve this rating an action plan was put in place. A review of progress made against the recommendations was carried out in October 2016, in which the delivery confidence rating was upgraded to red/amber (This means the project is now viewed as follows:  Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to address these problems and/or assess whether resolution is feasible.)

. The review team acknowledged the progress made by the project team but proposed a review of the delivery schedule, in light of the recent decision from HMT to adopt a Private Finance DBFM approach. The project team will ensure successful, timely delivery of the project by undertaking the recommendations proposed by the review team.

Project is on track with the option selection process prior to a statutory pre-application public consultation planned for January 2018 as part of the Development Consent Order Process. The Road Investment Strategy (RIS) has set a challenging target of starting works within the first RIS period, i.e. prior to April 2020. This target can only be achieved if the project is publicly financed. A revised Private Finance delivery programme is being developed.

The key take home-message seems to be that successful delivery of the project is still in doubt, the Treasury have decided to adopt a privately-financed design, build, finance and maintain (DBFM) approach to funding this scheme – despite the assurances that the funding had been ring-fenced.   So, the time scales we have previously been given (start in 2020 and completion by 2024) are now, seemingly, irrelevant.

Putting In The Ducting

Anyone who has been looking for signs of BT activity on the Shrewton road over the last couple of weeks would have found it hard to spot anything at all.  However, today there were a few signs that things are moving forward.

First of all, some BT subcontractors were spotted feeding ducting or possibly cable into one of the access chambers that were installed last year.

Further down the road, another contractor was pumping out another access chamber in the road at the foot of a BT pole:

However, they don’t appear to have brought the mole plough back yet, as the yellow plastic poles are still in the verge:

There is no evidence that they have installed any of the poles for which they had sought permission for traffic controls.  That might suggest there is a bit more work to be done over the next couple of weeks.  Apologies for the poor quality of the photos; they are stills from a windscreen video.

The Village Events Committee

Thanks largely to the organisational efforts of Steve Fair, the Events Committee was given a new lease of life back in June, with the election of a new committee at a very well attended meeting at the Solstice Rest:

Chairman:    Peter Stoner

Secretary:     Ryan Davis

Treasurer:    Angie Carr

We are assured the minutes will follow in due course.   The first meeting was followed by another, last night (3rd July), to firm up on a few ideas for events over the summer.  Please pencil in the following dates for your diary.  As soon as they are confirmed, we will publish more details and add them to the events calendar on the website.  So, the first part of the cunning plan is to hold an event over the weekend of 5/6th August 2017.  The Events Committee is hoping to lay on a barbecue and an event for kids on the Saturday afternoon, with a quiz and some music in the evening.

On the Sunday, the plan is to hold a Bacon-Butty-Breakfast and Car Boot-type sale.  All will be welcome to come along and buy, but sellers will have to be restricted to villagers due to the limited space available.

Other events are in the planning stages for later in the year, including a Christmas Party for the children.

Look on the Forum if you are a budding Quiz star, as the Events Committee are trying to establish if there is any interest in having a quiz night.  Similarly, if you have a bright idea for other events villagers might like to get involved in, please feel free to start a Forum topic off yourself to help judge local opinion.

Broadband News: An Unfortunate Delay

The Wiltshire Online-BT plan to deliver fibre broadband to Winterbourne Stoke has, as mentioned in previous updates, hit some barriers to progress; particularly a crop being planted in one of the fields that needs to be negotiated between here and Shrewton.

BT are very apologetic about having been unable to meet the original forecast but, to be honest, this has been due to circumstances outside of their control.  They are sure that they will get there and are changing the plan in order bring in the delivery as soon as possible.  The new route is unaffected by crops and the need to harvest them.

BT informed us over the weekend:

“We have been working in Winterbourne Stoke and an Openreach engineer will be on site on Monday 19th June to light test 3km of fibre.  In addition an engineering team will be installing cabling for another 500m section of the route over the coming weeks.

We require agreement to three wayleaves in order to complete the work. One was signed very early on while the other two are being worked through with the appointed land agent and the MOD and  we have asked the council to help where they can with wayleaves. Once resolved, then the mole ploughing of the remaining  2km route will commence and the solution can be fully commissioned.  The mole plough is on site now in readiness.

As you will understand this is one of our more challenging deployments, but we don’t give up.  Delivery of service is now targeted for August.”

So, watch this space.  BT will be providing regular updates which we will pass on as soon as we have them.

A303: Latest Comments from UNESCO/ICOMOS On The Highways England Proposals

A second UNESCO/ICOMOS Advisory mission to consider the emerging proposals on the Stonehenge to Berwick Down Scheme occurred in February 2017. The mission report acknowledges the responses to the first advisory mission recommendations, particularly on processes, archaeological investigations and assessments, but notes that some matters are yet to be implemented. This second mission recommends that a non-tunnel by-pass to the south of the property be re-considered and that further work should also occur on longer tunnel options, particularly in relation to portal location and potential impact on the overall Stonehenge cultural landscape and the setting of the property.

The full report is not yet available, but is sure to raise further concerns and questions locally.  If a southern, above-ground route is going to be pushed-for, nationally and internationally, by the bodies responsible for the World Heritage Site, we all need to consider where the best route for this might actually lie; if the idea starts to be taken seriously by government.  The F10 route, referred to below, follows the same course between Winterbourne Stoke and Berwick St James as does the southern bypass route offered in conjunction with the tunnel; with all the same issues for us as the by-passed village and for Berwick St James.  However, there are many other alternative routes that have been proposed, historically, that would take the A303 to the south of Berwick St James, with some of them offering possible partial solutions to the A36 congestion problems as well as those on the A303 – and they are also likely to prove cheaper than the existing tunnel solution, let alone a longer one.

Onboard and Online: Volunteers Needed For The Old Rectory Garden Opening on 25th June

STOP PRESS – The Dutton’s have just advised that they will waive any entry charge for residents of Winterbourne Stoke for the NGS garden event on 25th June

Just a reminder to all that Jonathan and Olivia Dutton are opening their garden at the Old Rectory under the National Garden Scheme (NGS) for the first time this year on 25th of June.  It will be open from 2pm to 5pm.  Admission is £5 (which goes to the NGS – children free).  They will be selling plants (hopefully!) and cream teas, with all the money raised from this going to St Peter’s Church funds.  Parking space has been kindly offered by Druid’s Lodge Estate.

As you can imagine (quite apart from all the work that goes into getting the garden looking pristine on the day!), catering for the possibility of 300-400 visitors is quite a challenging logistical exercise involving erecting tables, chairs, doing the catering, organising and directing the parking, selling the plants etc etc.

Consequently, Jonathan and Olivia would be very grateful for volunteers to help with teas and parking.  If you can help out please contact Olivia or Jonathan directly on 621247

Hopefully, if this years garden opening is a success, it will be repeated in future years; not only offering an attractive afternoon out, but also providing some much needed funding for the church.

The Day of the Triffids?

Well, no, not really.  Nothing to do at all with John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic novel from 1951 coming to life in Winterbourne Stoke, but those of you around and about in the village and the A303 earlier today would have seen the large signs warning of “Heavy Plant Crossing”.   These were warning of the drilling rig being unloaded and set up behind Cleeve View to the south of the A303.  This is yet another activity associated with a potential bypass of the village.  Highways England are sinking a 13 metre borehole to monitor water in the aquifer directly under the village.

Work will only be conducted during daytime hours as it will generate a bit of noise.  It is also likely to continue for a few days.

We don’t believe the monitoring is going to be permanent, which is a great shame, as in time it could prove a better resource than the Tilshead borehole in predicting flooding within the village.

Online and Onboard: URGENT – 1. Non-Motorised User Stakeholder Engagement 2. Wiltshire Council Cabinet Papers

1. Non-Motorised User Stakeholder Engagement

The following email should have been sent to the Parish Council two weeks ago.  The Chairman was sent a copy of it by a private individual whilst away in the north of England last week and had phoned Arup to find out why ALL villagers weren’t being consulted.  We heard only last night (thanks to another email being forwarded to us by a villager!), that this should have happened!  Apologies for Arup’s error.

Please, please try and respond to this asap – given the date, email is probably best to:   or you could try calling them on 02920 266681

Please note that they are not just interested in how we use the footpaths and byways in the immediate vicinity of the village, but across a much wider area of countryside bounded by the red perimeter, with particular interest in those within the yellow inner perimeter – which itself stretches from Wylye to Bulford.  We are aware that many horse and bike riders from the village regularly use this wider network of routes.

If you want a high resolution PDF of the map, you can get one from here.  If you don’t have email, but still want to respond, either ask a Parish Councillor to help you, or write to Toria Thomas at the address below.

Highways England is progressing its investigation into options for improving the 7.5 mile section of the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down. Our consultation on the proposed option for a tunnel past Stonehenge and a bypass north or south of Winterbourne Stoke concluded on 5 March 2017. As we consider the results of this consultation, we are also continuing our design development work.

As part of this design development work, we are collecting information to help consider the specific needs of Non-Motorised Users, considered to be pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians.

Please confirm your interest by replying to this correspondence before 13 March if you wish to contribute your views on this subject. Please note that this engagement is in addition to any response you have made to the consultation which concluded on 5 March.

Should you agree, we would like to follow up this email with a scheduled telephone conversation at your convenience. Please let us know of your contact number and a specific time that suits you within the next two weeks.

Alternatively, you can continue this correspondence via email if you prefer. To help us collect the required information, please respond to the following questions:

How do you use the current pedestrian, cyclist and equestrian facilities within the study area shown in the attached drawing?  (See below)
What issues with the footpath and byway network do you consider have an impact on how you use these pedestrian, cyclist and equestrian facilities?
Do you have any other comments regarding pedestrian, cyclist and equestrian activity/facilities?

We look forward to hearing your thoughts about the above, and should you have any queries or concerns, please contact us on 02920 266681.

Yours sincerely,

Toria Thomas
AAJV Non-Motorised User Lead
A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down

The Hub, 500 Park Avenue, Aztec West, Bristol. BS32 4RZ

Tel: 02920 266681

2. Wiltshire Council Cabinet Papers

Yesterday, the Chairman attended the Wiltshire Council Cabinet meeting and spoke of the concerns of the Parish Council regarding the lack of detailed information that had been provided to the public to advise them of the differences between the two schemes.   Cllr Ian West attended and spoke in his capacity as the Wiltshire Councillor for the Till and Wylye Valley division.   The Campaign for the Preservation of the Southern Till Valley were also represented and spoke.

It is clear, from the papers published by Wiltshire Council in advance of the meeting, that they share at least some of the concerns raised by the Parish Council regarding the dearth of high quality information. – saying:

“Whilst it is recognised that the design proposals are still at a very early stage in the development process, it is necessary for further information to be made available to the Council in order for it to fully assess the proposals. Therefore, the Council should retain the ability to refine its position once the additional information is available.”

It is interesting to note that Wiltshire Council do not seem to believe the route selection process ends in July 2017, rather that is when it begins.  See the two following links for further details:

A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down Road Scheme(1) Enc. 1 for A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down Road Schemes

Parish Council Response to the A303 Stonehenge Scheme Public Consultation

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!