Important to consider impact of traffic issues

RECENTLY all three MPs corresponding in the Journal’s pages have highlighted support for HS2, the building of a high speed railway to Birmingham and beyond.

Labour introduced this prior to the last general election, leading to accusations of electioneering from the other parties.

Four years on and it has widespread cross party support, although Labour has rightly stated that it has to be carefully managed to prevent costly overruns.

In my personal view there is little point in starting a high speed railway project without agreeing the routes to run north of Birmingham.

I note John Glen is a little more reserved in his support for HS2, perhaps because of local pressure group, Stonehenge Traffic Action Group (STAG) whose blog (staga303) sees HS2 as direct financial competition for solving the A303 traffic issues and want the money spent on SH2 ( the Stonehenge dual carriageway).

As a railwayman I am all too familiar with the arguments for HS2 and I see the investment as crucial for the longer term future economy of the north with a dedicated line, freeing up the recently upgraded west coast mainline to continue carrying passengers and expanding on freight traffic.

John Glen misses the point when asking if I am pro having a tunnel past Stonehenge (March 20).

The argument is about the importance of improving national infrastructure based on value for money and economic returns whilst competing for funding against other national roads projects.

Taking in some of the arguments for a tunnel or cutting as part of A303 improvements, if passing traffic can no longer enjoy the views of Stonehenge then aside from a fall in drop in visitor numbers everyone will miss out on seeing the iconic stones in the varying daylight conditions year round, something we should be able to enjoy just as we do with other scenic views.

Only a few people would pay to see the stones several times a year.

This treasure should not be isolated from view, or it will slip from our consciousness. The issue of pollution from traffic, which I strongly agree with is one that should be treated on a national and worldwide level, not just a Stonehenge concern.

Nor do I believe that the traffic noise is a great cause of concern to those visiting the stones. The cost of a tunnel, cheapest when created as a cut and shut – digging a trench, building up the base and sides and finally putting a roof on, is still much more expensive to do than building a traditional open road.

The viability of any work to the A303 at Stonehenge has a direct impact on the viability of improvements to the other stretches of the A303 further west. It is not just for us residing in Wiltshire but also those living and working in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset right here and now who need improvements to the A303 that will benefit trade and tourism along the route for generations to come.

The timing of announcements for national infrastructure improvements is scheduled for December which ties in nicely on the run up to the next General Election.

After May 2015 when the next government is in place, regardless of political hue, it will have to take a look at whatever capital expenditures are planned and decide if they really are in the best national interest.

National and local politics have got in the way of A303 improvements before and will do so again unless a fair and pragmatic view is taken right now to make the A303 past Stonehenge a dual carriageway at an acceptable cost.

Balancing infrastructure and environmental needs in an ever changing world is never going to be easy. It is time for a change in direction if we want to see an end to this chaos.

Tom Corbin, Labour parliamentary candidate for Salisbury constituency

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