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Stonehenge Tunnel

Volume 792: debated on Monday 9 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made with the plan to build the A303 Stonehenge tunnel.

My Lords, the upgrade of the A303 to dual carriageway standard includes a tunnel to remove the road from much of the Stonehenge landscape. Following consultation on route options, the preferred route was announced in September 2017. Highways England developed the scheme further before statutory consultation this year on the proposals. The consultation responses will inform the proposals submitted this autumn for planning consent. Subject to statutory approval, construction is planned to begin in 2021.

I thank the Minister for that positive response. Does she agree that both business and tourism in the south-west rely on good transport infrastructure? We need to ensure that we have reliable connectivity with the region, especially improving the resilience of the single-track railway through Dawlish.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we need to ensure that we have reliable connectivity across the south-west, both to promote business links with that part of the world and to facilitate tourism—at £4.5 billion a year, the area has the UK’s highest domestic tourism expenditure by region. That is why the Government are investing £2 billion in the strategic road network in the south-west. Of course, the rail network also plays an important role in supporting the south-west. Specifically on Dawlish, we have fixed the damage caused by the storms in 2014. We do not want to see that happen again, so we are investing further in resilience work.

My Lords, the widening and modernising of the A303 through Stonehenge and down into Somerset is long overdue, although, as the Minister says, consultation has at last begun. However, no benefit is being offered to the communities along the A359, which is also part of the A303 improvement scheme, between Mudford, Sparkford and Queen Camel. These communities have suffered much in the past and are likely to suffer more, particularly during the construction stages. Can the Minister say why no compensation is being offered to alleviate their misery?

My Lords, the scheme is part of a long-term strategy to better link the M3 and the south-east to the M5 and the south-west. Upgrading to a continuous dual carriageway standard will transform it into a high-quality route. Of course, the local residents will benefit from that. I am afraid I do not have specific information for the noble Baroness on compensation, but I will write to her. But, as I say, there will be benefits, both from the improved connectivity and the removal of rat-running through villages.

My Lords, can the Minister explain how long the tunnel underneath Stonehenge is? This issue has been around for 20 or 30 years and the tunnel gets longer and longer because the archaeologists keep digging up further remains at each end of it. Is this the end of the tunnelling, or are they going to find more remains to make it even longer?

My Lords, as the noble Lord points out, this is a key heritage site and we are being very careful when making our plans for this. The heritage site suffers significant congestion because the single carriageway carries significantly more traffic than it was designed for, and that is why the tunnel is important. The proposed scheme includes a free-flowing dual carriageway and a tunnel of at least 1.8 miles in length.

My Lords, as one who suffers weekly from the appalling congestion on the A303 at Stonehenge, picking up the question from the Liberal Democrats Benches could I ask my noble friend how much further west improvements are going to be made, or is the bottleneck simply going to be pushed fractionally from east to west?

My Lords, as I said, we have committed £2 billion to the south-west strategic road network. It will include the first three schemes to achieve the continuous dual carriageway: Southfields to Taunton; Sparkford to Ilchester; and Amesbury to Berwick Down. The intention is to complete the remaining five schemes for the full corridor upgrade in future road investment strategies.

My Lords, 5,000 responses were received to the consultation earlier this year on the proposals to improve the A303 past Stonehenge on the 7.5 miles between Amesbury and Berwick Down. Those 5,000 responses have prompted a further consultation on what the recent advertisements in the press describe as “certain aspects” over four weeks from 17 July. What are the certain aspects on which Highways England will shortly be seeking further views which could not reasonably have been foreseen and included as part of the earlier consultation? When will the A303 proposals be submitted for development consent? The Highways England website says mid-2018, but there is a further consultation to come.

My Lords, this is a complicated site and we need to do all we can to preserve it. Since the consultation ended, the scheme has undergone further consideration and further development, which led to the identification of three changes, specifically: removing the previously proposed links between byways 11 and 12; widening the green bridge proposed near the existing Longbarrow roundabout to improve the physical and visual connection; and moving the proposed modification of Rollestone crossroads to provide a more compact junction layout. That consultation will take place until 14 August, and then the feedback will be considered and the DCO will be submitted.

My Lords, I hope the Minister is aware of the very poor road between the end of Somerset and Honiton in east Devon. At Honiton there is a dual carriageway, but there is a long and very dreary period to get from Honiton into Somerset. Something urgently needs to be done.

My Lords, the £2 billion that we are investing in south-west roads will improve issues across the south-west. I am afraid that I do not know about the exact details that the noble Baroness has raised, but I will find out and write to her.

My Lords, I have lived just beyond the stones all my life and am absolutely delighted with the progress that is being made and with the improvements that English Heritage has made to visiting Stonehenge as a site—we should celebrate that. I would like to ask: assuming that work starts in 2021, which I obviously very much hope, when will the road be open?

My Lords, assuming that work starts in 2021, which we are very much working towards, it will be complete in 2026.

My Lords, in view of the Government’s evident enthusiasm for tunnels, could I press the Minister on why they are so unenthusiastic in the context of HS2, when there is carnage for ancient woodland up and down both the phase 1 and the phase 2A routes which could be solved by tunnels?

My Lords, of course there are tunnels on the HS2 route, and where they are placed has been carefully considered. On ancient woodlands, there is considerable investment in planting more trees along the whole of the route.