The boring Stonehenge story takes off again

fund the tunnel I would really like the Stonehenge A303 problem to be sorted out – and there is a serious problem, as anyone knows who has to drive there regularly. Tunnelling has to be part of the solution, for it would achieve what nothing else could, the removal of an impermeable barrier across the world heritage site landscape. So news that the government is ready to fund major works there is good to hear. road closed But let’s save a great deal of anguish, time and money: keep the politics out of it. For those of you new to this story (you wouldn’t think there would be anyone, but to judge from online comments, there are many), here are a few pointers.

  1. Don’t waste time dreaming up complex new routes. If you can find one, be sure it’s already been thought of. The map below is a hint of the work done in this area. It’s from a 2006 Highways Agency consultation, and it shows some of the major routes that had been seriously (=expensively) considered (I’ve combined two maps from the report). To be fair, research did not allow for flying cars. So if you really must pursue your own way, perhaps there’s an opening there.

where's the A303

  1. There is already a big road going through the world heritage site. We call it the A303, and part of it is a dual carriageway in a cutting. It’s full of cars and lorries. Tunnelling, or adding a lane to the existing road, would change things, but it would not introduce something alien to the place.

A303 lorry

  1. Hitching your political reputation to a solution is not necessarily to be recommended. The track record is not good. But all power to Danny Alexander, LibDem chief secretary to the Treasury. “The A303”, he has said, “should be a south-west super highway, which is what we are going to make it into through this investment programme. It can be England’s new economic engine.”

This is the same Danny Alexander who in 2010 told us that he had cancelled a proposed Stonehenge Visitor Centre, because it did not “represent good value for money”. We had to point out then that the government wasn’t actually in a position to cancel the project, and thus save £25m, as it was funding less than half of it. The Daily Telegraph has today drawn attention to the fact that “Two thirds of the [new road] schemes where construction work has been given the green light are in Tory and LibDem constituencies, including some of the parties’ most marginal seats”. If you can claim credit for taking away money that didn’t exist, you can presumably promise to spend it when it’s not there. But maybe UKIP-fear will finally deliver what all else has failed to do. I wish them the best of luck.

Nick Clegg at the stones this morning (ITV/Meridian)
Nick Clegg at the stones this morning (ITV/Meridian)

8 thoughts on “The boring Stonehenge story takes off again

  1. “Tunnelling has to be part of the solution, for it would achieve what nothing else could, the removal of an impermeable barrier across the world heritage site landscape.”

    Spot on Mike.

    If it’s a cut and cover tunnel (in part or in whole) presumably there’ll be appropriate (archaeological) surveys done first and then due care taken when the first few metres are dug. The result will be that valuable information might be gained about the Stonehenge area that would not otherwise be uncovered.

    It’s a win-win situation, with the road eyesore finally removed, more information about Stonehenge possibly brought to light and (hopefully) a much needed boost for archaeology and archaeologist brought in to monitor the work.

  2. Seems to polarise the various camps this tunnel.

    Interesting that Icomos seem to think it will have an adverse impact. The only reason that occurs to me is that tunnelling in this locality will allow a significantly larger volume and speed of traffic. Though raleigh effects may not increase, shear and longitudinal (compression) wave vibration may significantly increase. Depending on the exact route chosen, this may have an impact on the already fragile foundations of the monument, exacerbated because increases in vibrational impacts are, more or less, proportional to the square of velocity (together with the increase in volume and the likelihood of very large vehicles starting to use the route rather than diverting around the motorways).

    One cost efficient compromise may be to accept a small possibility of damage to the monument: An inexpensive risk factor unlikely to impact on the benefits for tourism. All depends exactly how near the proposed route would be relative to the monument.

    Here’s a handy guide to this sort of thing for anyone who might have an interest:

    Click to access 485.pdf

  3. In an Independent article today ( ) David Jacques, the archaeologist at the University of Buckingham who discovered the Blick Mead encampment, is quoted as saying, “Blick Mead could explain what archaeologists have been searching for for centuries – an answer to the story of Stonehenge’s past. British pre-history may have to be rewritten. But our only chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain’s history could be wrecked if the tunnel goes ahead.”

    Is this really true? You’re closer to the archaeological arguments for and against a tunnel Mike. Would such a project wreck the archaeological record or would it be an opportunity to actually discover more about Stonehenge and the surrounding area? Are you getting any sort of feedback from the archaeological world on whether a tunnel would be a good thing or not?

  4. Those are big questions! I’m hoping to write a blog about Stonehenge soon, and I’ll address them there. (Things are rarely so clear-cut.)

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