Following the A303 Consultation Meetings of 13th and 14th January, and comments received, Highways England were asked for more detail.  A lot more detail:

…when you scratched away at the surface, there was very little supporting data and no clear indication or commitment that this would be available before the closure of the consultation period on 5th March.  So, in the absence of evidence how can anyone make an informed decision as to the best route?

the response we received was fairly anodyne:

…Can I recommend that anyone who is interested in more technical more supporting information can look at the Technical Appraisal Report which is all on the consultation site and offers a lot more information for people who wish to access it. All eight volumes are listed if you scroll down the page to the Technical Appraisal Report at www.highways.gov.uk/a303stonehenge/consultation . I hope that helps.

If you have any further questions after you have had a look do get in touch on a303stonehenge@highwaysengland.co.uk…

Sadly, whichever side of the debate you might be drawn to, the Technical Appraisal Report and its many appendices contains little hard information, despite its extreme verbosity.  This morning, and following further comments that have been made by villagers, we’ve sent the following reply to Highways England:

…Thank you for your quick response and we will indeed feed further low level questions in to Highway England at a303stonehenge@highwaysengland.co.uk
…However, there is a fundamental high level issue here that underpins the credibility of the work that has been done so far on the A303 Stonehenge Scheme; specifically in relation to the Winterbourne Stoke route options, but one that possibly applies to all the other corridor schemes.  That issue comes down to availability of data.

We expected, and you seem to believe, that something called the Technical Appraisal Report might actually contain some sort of technical detail, underpinning and justifying the routes and their impact.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The TAR and its appendices contain little or no technical detail, particularly when it comes to environmental impacts such as noise, air quality and light pollution from vehicles; no mention at all is made of the latter and only Appendix D deals with noise and air quality in a very cursory way.

Annex D contains, at best a few bald contentions, with no underpinning data, details of methodologies or references to support these contentions.  For example, para 2.2.65 of Annex D states

“A noise analysis was carried out to identify potential changes as a result of the scheme. This was compared to current census data to assess the impact on nearby vulnerable groups. At this stage, the assessment considered changes to the route location along with changes in traffic flow as a result of the scheme.”

The output of this assessment is given in para 3.7.3:

“All options within Corridor D are classed as Moderate Beneficial, as these alignments would remove through traffic from Winterbourne Stoke and noise impacts on this section of the A303. Concentrations of children who would be particularly impacted by these changes have been identified in impacted areas for all alignments”.

Para 2.2.66 of Annex D says very much the same in terms of Air Quality:

“An air quality analysis was carried out to identify potential changes as a result of the scheme. This was compared to current census data to assess the impact on vulnerable groups. At this stage, the assessment considered changes to the route location along with changes in traffic flow as a result of the scheme.”

With the assessment in para 3.7.4:

All options within Corridor D are classed as Moderate Beneficial, as these alignments would remove through traffic from Winterbourne Stoke and air quality impacts on this section of the A303. Concentrations of children who would be particularly impacted by these changes have been identified in impacted areas for all alignments.

So, all very vague and wooly with no evidence presented to show any work has actually been done – save writing the sentences above.

The level of granularity we are seeking when we ask for data, is such that we could give it to an expert in the field for an independent evaluation.  That clearly isn’t possible from the above.  As a bare minimum we wish to be made available:

1.    The methodologies used for these analyses
2.    Evidence for the verification and validation of the methodology by independent subject matter experts
3.    The underpinning assumptions used in the analyses and their derivation.
4.    All raw data sets and evidence of their date and place of origin.

This is not an unusual level of detail, it is the basic stuff of science.  It is simply that necessary to allow a third party to repeat the work and, if it has been conducted appropriately, arrive at the same answer.  We would expect to see that standard models had been used in this work, for instance, the CONCAWE model for the effects of wind propagation on sound, or particulate and vapour transport models.

We provided them with an example of the sort of information detail we were looking for.   You can find it at: http://hayesmckenzie.co.uk/uploads/McKenzie_Bullmore_-_The_effects_of_wind_speed__-_2002.pdf

We need to see data based on multiple sampling points through the village for the existing route of the A303 and the model data for the alternative routes prior to the end of the consultation period in March and in sufficient time for it to be independently validated.  If this information is not currently available, then the assertions made regarding the environmental impact of either the northern are southern routes are unfounded and indefensible.  Effectively, it would mean we are being asked to make a choice based on faith, not evidence…

In the email, we further asked John Glen MP to raise these issues with Secretary of State, Chris Grayling MP and included in our reply Cllr Fleur de Rhé-Philipe, the Wiltshire Council Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Skills, Strategic Transport and Strategic Property.   We have also engaged with Professor Phil Blythe of Newcastle University, the Department for Transport’s Chief Scientific Adviser, as he is the key departmental adviser on issues such as the integrity of science conducted in, and on behalf of, DfT.  We have asked him to comment on both the nature of the work undertaken, its validity, robustness and whether or not the contentions made in the Technical Appraisal Report are, in his opinion, sufficiently detailed to reasonably permit anyone to make an informed choice as to a preferred route.

The responses ought to be telling.  Whilst we’ve focused on just a few aspects of the TAR (noise, pollution and light), we fear the same issue may apply to just about any aspect of the routes you care to ask about.

Watch out for an important announcement of a Meeting of the Parish – we hope to be able to hold it towards the end of next week to discuss the concerns of ALL villagers with the route options being proposed and their potential impacts on the village.

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