The UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and its heritage advisors ICOMOS International, have published a report on the Government’s developing plans for a major upgrade of the A303 which cuts across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS).
The early plans, which went to a first round of public consultation earlier this year, include proposals for the construction of a tunnel of at least 2.9km in order to remove much of the damaging A303 from the WHS.
In a joint statement, the National Trust, English Heritage and Historic England said:
“We’re disappointed that the ICOMOS report largely ignores both the benefits of removing a large stretch of the A303 and the danger of doing nothing at all.
“The A303 cuts through the heart of the Stonehenge world heritage site, splitting it in two and causing damage to this ancient landscape, pollution and delays for thousands caught up in the traffic jams that have blighted the area for decades. With traffic set to increase, maintaining the status quo is not an option for anyone who cares about the heritage and history of this unique site.
“We believe that if well-designed and sited with the utmost care for the surrounding archaeology and chalk grassland landscape, the tunnel proposal presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide a setting worthy of some of the nation’s most important ancient monuments and will bring huge benefits in terms of public access, nature conservation and protecting the nation’s heritage.
“The report rightly points out that further work is needed on the proposals. Our three organisations are champions for this remarkable site and we want to reach the best possible outcome for it. We have challenged aspects of the scheme which we have concerns about and we have called for the proposed routes at the last consultation to be significantly improved. We also recognise there are others in the heritage community who could make a valuable contribution and welcome the recommendation of setting up a scientific committee as soon as possible to bring this expertise together.
We are not against development in principle, to the contrary we are for good development. We have always supported good quality housing built in the right place as identified in local plans and which meets our planning principles.
Working with the local planning system to make good choices for the location and design of development is absolutely essential. That is why we want to ensure the planning system is well resourced and effective – so that everyone benefits.
When we very occasionally release land for development we aim to use it as an opportunity to showcase what good housing can look like.
We only sell land for development when we are completely satisfied that any proposed scheme passes a rigorous set of design and environmental standards we apply as part of our decision-making process. The proposed development at Pyrland north of Taunton is a good example of this.
On our land at Pyrland, we propose to set aside a large proportion of green space for the residents of the new homes and those already living nearby. Proposals include footpaths, cycleways, community allotments, orchards and conservation areas. We are also proposing that the historic parkland landscape at Pyrland is restored and made accessible to the public for the first time.
The land at Pyrland was left to the Trust by John Adams who gave it at the same time that he gave us Fyne Court. It was his wish that we would sell this land to raise funds to look after Fyne Court and other special places in our care in Somerset. As always, we have ensured that the sale and development of the land complies with the wishes of the donor who gave it to us.
The vast majority of our land is held forever, for everyone. Housing development takes place on only a tiny fraction of our land. Less than 0.01% is currently allocated for housing in local plans and proposed for development by the Trust. The proceeds from this goes straight back into our conservation work.
Ian Wilson, Assistant Director of Operations, at the National Trust, said: “The National Trust has a long standing ambition to remove as much of the A303 road from the Stonehenge landscape as possible.
“Huge volumes of traffic on the road are already having a detrimental impact on the site and forecasts suggest this will only get worse. We need to find a solution to this problem sooner rather than later and that solution needs to remove as much of the highly damaging existing road as possible.
“We believe building a tunnel under the landscape is the best way of improving the quality of this special place whilst at the same time significantly improving a major transport link for the South West.
“We would like to see the longest possible tunnel but we recognise that any plan needs to be both affordable and deliverable if we’re to finally solve this long-running challenge.
“Early results from our work to assess various options for the A303 at Stonehenge suggest that a tunnel of 2.9km may bring significant benefits for this special place, reuniting the archaeologically rich wider Stonehenge landscape, and allowing people to better explore and understand the story of a place so important for the human history of these islands.
“Reuniting the two halves of the world heritage site would also allow visitors and local communities to enjoy far greater access to this wonderful landscape. We’re continuing to work with the Government and partner organisations to look at how we best deliver a world class solution for one of the most important pre-historic landscapes in Europe.”
Ingrid Samuel, National Trust historic environment director, said:
“We have called for state investment to get difficult brownfield sites ready for development, and so we welcome moves in this direction from Government – and the clear recognition from the Chancellor of the need to protect valued countryside. There are many sites in urban areas, close to existing jobs and transport links which communities would like to develop ahead of countryside sites though their Local Plans, but developers currently deem them unviable due to additional costs.
“As with any development, care should be taken to ensure new homes on brownfield land respect local heritage and biodiversity, are well designed, with access to green space and good transport links, and that affordability needs are considered. The detail of any proposed changes will need to make sure that local communities, through the planning process, can ensure these needs are properly considered.”
An Infrastructure Bill which could make fracking for gas easier was announced in the Queen’s Speech today.
Rick Hebditch, Assistant Director for External Affairs at the National Trust, said:
“The Government has only just started consulting on changing the trespass law to make it easier for fracking. It’s a little presumptuous therefore for the Government to say today that the Infrastructure Bill will open up access for shale given the continued concerns from the National Trust and others about how well fracking is regulated.
“It’s also important that all the measures in the Infrastructure Bill, including on planning, get proper Parliamentary scrutiny in the short session before the election. Adding in measures on fracking would mean there’s less time for scrutiny, which could lead to poor policy that doesn’t address perfectly legitimate concerns about the process.”
Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape & Nature, said: “We’re pleased that the Environmental Audit Committee has listened to the environmental concerns raised during this inquiry. The evidence we submitted called for HS2 Ltd to aim fora net gain for biodiversity, for independent review of overlapping assessments of impact and for a technical dispute resolution method.
“As a conservation organisation that cares about wildlife we are concerned about the effectiveness of some of the proposed ecological measures, the efficacy of habitat relocation around the route, the baseline data and the vagueness of some of the proposals. The Government’s actions here must be based on sound scientific evidence.
“We also welcome continued monitoring of the environmental implications from HS2 and a separate mitigation and compensation budget. It’s vital that concerns are properly heard, that the impacts of the railway are properly addressed and that the best solutions are found for the people and places affected. HS2 mustn’t end up cutting corners at the expense of the environment.”