PRIME Minister Tony Blair entered the Stonehenge road improvements debate this week by stating his government fully recognises the importance of finding a practical way forward in solving the traffic problems besetting the monument and surrounding area.

He said the government also recognised the unique importance of the World Heritage site, as well as the wider economic impact on the south-west.

The Prime Minister was replying to a letter from Salisbury MP Robert Key, in which he was asked for his personal assistance in bringing the Stonehenge A303 road saga to an end.

Mr Key said he believed the tunnel option for the A303 one of five road scheme options currently on the table could be financed through the new national tolling system, announced by the secretary for state for transport, Douglas Alexander.

The scheme would not see toll booths on the road, but all drivers' journeys would be tracked and charged accordingly.

Mr Key said he believed a tunnel currently price-tagged at £510m could be funded by a pilot of this idea.

Replying in writing to Mr Key, the Prime Minister told him that a report and detailed assessment of the latest review of options and public consultation would be going to roads' minister Stephen Ladyman during the course of this summer.

He said the possibility of the bored-tunnel option being funded by tolling had been considered by a review in January this year.

But the review concluded that tolling of the sort used on the M6 toll road was unlikely to be suitable, as there would be considerable environmental and archaeological constraints on finding a suitable location for constructing a toll plaza, and traffic would divert from the A303 onto less satisfactory roads.

The same problems would not necessarily apply if there were an open road toll, under which charges were collected electronically or paid by other means.

The electronic option would require large numbers of vehicles to be fitted with the right equipment, and the review had concluded this would not be feasible, owing to the high number of occasional users (including foreign vehicles) on the A303.

Mr Blair said that, while the government was committed to taking forward the debate on national road pricing, implementation was still some years away.

Mr Key told the Journal that he had taken the issue to the heart of government and Mr Blair had acknowledged the importance of a decision on the A303 "to our local communities, for the south-west and our country."

He added: "After so many years of dithering and, whatever our views on the future of the stones and the road, now we'll see if they will bite the bullet or send it back to the too difficult' cupboard."