Driving from London to the South West gives you many options. You can take the M4 and the M5 or even venture down onto the M27 and take the coastal route. But most seem to prefer the A303 which is in so many ways imperfect but benefits from being the most direct route across Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset before becoming the A30 into Devon.
It’s long been an irony that one of the best views of the iconic Stonehenge monument can be seen from the A303. The A303 narrows from a dual carriageway to two-way traffic as it passes Stonehenge – the traffic queues, as people slow down for a look, are infamous. As are the regular tailbacks at the roundabout where the narrow road starts.
For many years people have complained how Stonehenge – one of Britain’s most important monuments – has been reduced to nothing more than a traffic island.
Plans to widen the road have always been hampered by the proximity to the Neolithic monument and the archaeology of the area; 9.6 km² around Stonehenge is designated as an ancient monument and World Heritage Site. So, a long-mooted outline to build a tunnel to take a widened road past Stonehenge has now been accepted by the Government’s transport secretary Chris Grayling.
Grayling’s decision affects many parts of the A303 – not just the Stonehenge tunnel. Costing an estimated £2bn, Grayling’s announcement includes upgrades on the A303 between the M3 and M5 motorways, and comprises a seven mile stretch of new dual carriageway, of which 1.8 miles (2.9km) would be tunnelled past Stonehenge. The plans for a tunnel have been backed by both the National Trust and English Heritage, joint custodians of the Stonehenge site.
Of course, there’s opposition: a campaigning group, Stonehenge Alliance, believes that to avoid damaging the archaeology of the site, the tunnel would need to be 2.7 miles (4.3km) long at least, and the custodians support a tunnel “as long as possible”.
The plan is subject to a public consultation, which will run until 5 March.
Country Squire Magazine fully backs the Government’s plans.