The SAG are in favour of duelling the A303 on its existing line, right past Stonehenge.
This is the first public meeting of any kind that I've attended, and the room was packed. I suppose there were about 80 people in attendance.
I came away, after hearing presentations from and the views of:
- the SAG Chairman (who fairly summarised the whole saga to date)
- Julian Richards on the archaeological impact of the re-proposed Northern and Southern surface routes via Larkhill and Normanton Down respectively.
- the RSPB on the impact of the various options (the bored tunnel being their preferred solution) on their carefully nursed area where stone curlews are managing to recover their numbers from a low of only 150 breeding pairs left in 1980 to 300 pairs today.
- the Highways Agency, who laid out why it was all still under discussion, and revealed that the Govt has only actually ruled out one option - that of duelling the A303 along its existing route ie the SAG preferred option
- the CLA (Country Landowners Association?) on the economic and agricultural impact of the various proposals (they are also in favour of a bored tunnel)
- the father and daughter who own and work the land to the south of Stonehenge through which the proposed Southern route would be cut, utterly destroying the landscape
- the members of the public, including people who would have the Northern route right at the end of their gardens in Larkhill, where it would slice through the landscape linking Stonehenge and Durrington Walls/Woodhenge.
What quite surprised me was the feeling amongst some of the public that, if there was a tunnel, then people would somehow be being denied their right to see Stonehenge as they whizzed past on the A303! This aspect featured largely in the points made by some people who were in favour of the duelling on the surface route option.
It's becoming clear to me that the correct solution is a bored tunnel - the catastrophic downsides of all the other options outweigh their short term upsides (reduced cost, primarily).
I can't imagine a worse solution than duelling the A303 on its existing line - 70mph, 48 tonne juggernauts hammering past the monument while distracted drivers try to keep one eye on the road and another on the 5000 year old blur on their right.
Given that a major reason for all this is to try and ameliorate the deathtrap that is the A344/A303 junction at Stonehenge, I find it quite astonishing that anyone imagines that duelling option is workable.
The cost for the bored tunnel is estimated at something of the order of £500M, for the 2.1km long option - though a far longer 4.5km tunnel extending almost all the way to the edges of the World Heritage Site would be - to my mind - a better solution still.
The 2.1km tunnel estimate is £200M more than it was originally due to problems revealed during ground surveys (very friable chalk, and drainage issues, mainly).
This Government regularly loses that kind of money down the back of the sofa - seriously, even £1Bn is practically loose change.
After all, how much did that blasted Dome cost? Or the Scottish Parliament building? Or the Olympics? Does Britain really need a replacement for Trident, or just a foreign policy that doesn't piss off whole sections of the globe? The rail industry gets a whopping £5Bn subsidy each year and the trains are run by *private* companies - it's not even a public service any more.
The Government were prepared to throw money at bailing out MG Rover not 12 months ago, because there was an election looming and Longbridge cut across key marginals and let's not forget the MP's new Westminster office block "Portcullis House" which cost £265M (up from an original estimate of £165). Did they baulk at that? Of course not.
The truth is that they could find the money if they wanted to.
I wish they had the courage to do so, quite honestly if Blair wants a legacy through which he'll be remembered with admiration by future generations then this'd be one way he could actually get it.