The Department for Transport (DfT) has published plans for a realigned £1.6bn A303 Stonehenge road upgrade.
Plans for the A303 upgrade between Amesbury and Berwick Down went out to public consultation in January. They included proposals to dual the road, build a 2.9km dual carriageway tunnel beneath the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS) and build a bypass for the village of Winterbourne Stoke.
Currently a single carriageway road runs within 165m of the WHS, but it is often congested as motorists slow down to look at the stones, particularly in the summer months.
The DfT said it had decided to move the western portal for the tunnel to avoid a burial mound. The original alignment had come under fire from English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust, which said the position of the portal was a “cause for concern”.
The DfT said that as a result of moving the portal, the tunnel would be 50m further away from the monument. This would now avoid important archaeological sites and avoid intrusion on the view of the setting sun from Stonehenge during the winter solstice.
The January proposals included options for a north or south bypass of Winterbourne Stoke to the west of the WHS. As a result of the consultation, the DfT has chosen the northern route as the preferred option.
In April this year, Aecom was appointed by Highways England to provide technical support for the scheme.
This section of the route will comprise nearly 13km of “high quality” dual carriageway, but the preferred option for the dualling of the 11km long stretch of the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester, has yet to be announced.
The total A303 upgrade will comprise a 50km dual carriageway between Mere and South Petherton.
Environmental and heritage groups, National Trust, Historic England, English Heritage Trust have all welcomed the repositioned route, but said they remained “committed to working with and constructively challenging Highways England” to produce a final design that “protected and enhanced” the WHS.
In a joint statement Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage said: “The Stonehenge World Heritage Site is internationally-important not just for Stonehenge itself but for the unique and rich concentrations of burial mounds and monuments in the landscape. Brimming with nature, the open chalk grassland is also home to rare and endangered species of wildlife.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reunite this ancient landscape which is currently severed by a huge volume of road traffic.
“We welcome the amended route and believe it can, if designed and located with the utmost care, deliver a lasting legacy for the World Heritage Site and restore peace and tranquillity to the Stonehenge landscape.”
The project is part of the government’s £15bn road upgrade programme.
Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: “Highways England is committed to delivering a high quality, modern road on this vital route between the South West and the rest of the country.
“The A303 and the WHS has suffered from congestion for many years. This scheme will enhance, protect and restore tranquillity to one of the UK’s most iconic landscapes.
“We have listened to feedback from consultation and believe this preferred route will help improve traffic flow, reduce rat running on the surrounding roads, bringing improvements to local communities and benefits to the South West economy.”