After several failed attempts, the government believes that it now has a Stonehenge tunnel scheme that is affordable, deliverable and has the support of heritage and environmental bodies. However, decisions on how to fund the project are on the critical path for the planned opening date of 2026 and are now at the mercy of the much-awaited Spending Review. Delaying those decisions further will jeopardise the opening date. The Stonehenge tunnel project, expected to cost around £1.7 billion (excluding VAT), is a key part of the government’s plans for the A303 road corridor. The Department and Highways England expect it to deliver significant heritage benefits as well as easing road congestion. Yet the Department and Highways England do not yet have a clear idea of what improvements they are expecting to see at the World Heritage Site and the surrounding area. The Department and Highways England aspire to upgrading the whole A303 road corridor to dual carriageway standard to improve connectivity and support economic growth in the South West. However, it is not yet certain that all eight road improvement projects needed to do this will go ahead. So far, the Department has only committed to starting three out of the eight projects required along the route. With improvements to only some parts of the road corridor, traffic congestion is likely to be eased at some points but pushed to other sections of the road. Similarly, the contribution of any one project to enabling growth in jobs and housing is undermined if neighbouring projects to provide a free-flowing and reliable road connection are not given the go-ahead.
It will be extremely challenging to deliver the South West road improvements to cost and time, and the Department does not have a good track record in delivering major projects. The region needs a properly integrated transport strategy, going beyond road to incorporate rail, sea and air, but the bodies tasked with delivering this strategy are still very immature.
Published: 3 July 2019