Stonehenge 'Expressway' consultation comes to Lockeridge - as people in Avebury question impact on World Heritage Site statusThe latest - and final? - controversial 'Expressway' plans for 'dualling' a section of the A303 and burying part of the road by Stonehenge in a twin-bore tunnel, are out to consultation. The Highways England consultation road show will be at the Kennet Valley Hall, Lockeridge on Thursday, February 22 between 2pm and 8pm.
The plans for the £1.6billion scheme involve a 0.3 kilometre tunnel, about a mile of new dual carriageway cut into the World Heritage Site (WHS), a viaduct and a flyover.
The scheme has been broadly welcomed by the National Trust, Historic England and English Heritage - with one proviso that re-opening a track across the buried A303 would allow more cars to approach the iconic stones. Wiltshire Council is in favour - it must be a relief to find someone else willing to spend money in the county.
There is however strong opposition to the scheme from organisations that have combined into the Stonehenge Alliance: "However well designed, the devastating impact of this road engineering would destroy archaeology and deeply scar this iconic landscape and its setting for ever."
"UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has condemned a short A303 tunnel, and advised the UK Government to examine options that would not damage the World Heritage Site."
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme when the current consultation began last week, Derek Parody, Highways England's Director for the £1.6billion scheme, said no damage would be done at all. That is quite a claim considering no one knows precisely what archaeological riches lie along the route.
This WHS includes Stonehenge and Avebury - and people in Avebury are worried the government's 'expressway scheme' will endanger WHS status. In March Avebury Parish Council submitted its response Highways England's first consultation.
Then in December they wrote a reasoned and fair-minded letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling: "The Parish Council is concerned that Avebury may lose its World heritage Site status, or be put on UNESCO's list of 'Sites at Danger', because the Expressway, as proposed, ignores recommendations of UNESCO's second Advisory Mission on 6 July."
The Parish Council pointed out that Britain is a signatory to the WHS Convention which places the requirement to protect sites on the state: "Yet the construction of the proposed surface roads and portals [entrances to the tunnel] will destroy a number of archaeological features and damage WHS settings."
"Despite archaeological features being fundamental to the preservation of WHS status, the Technical Appraisal Report published by Highways England on 12 January  did not include a chapter on archaeological impacts, and no Technical Appraisal has been published since."
The letter has not been answered by Mr Grayling, but has been passed to what is now the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DDCMS) which is not sponsoring the road scheme, but which has obligations to protect the WHS. A response is awaited.
It remains to be seen whether the Department for Transport, which is promoting the scheme, is concerned about damage done to the WHS and its archaeology or is simply passing the buck to the DDCMS.
Part of the problem is that the government has now capped the cost of the scheme - so calls for a widely routed by-pass of the whole WHS or a 4.5 kilometre tunnel will almost certainly fall on deaf ears in Whitehall.