The A303, the road in question, is celebrated for the wonderful views it offers of the Stonehenge monoliths. But as one of the two major routes connecting the domesticated landscapes of the south-east of England with the wilder West Country, it is just as famous for its dire traffic jams, which begin as the highway narrows to a single lane near Stonehenge.
What could be a 10-minute ride through the 6,500-acre Unesco world heritage site in which Stonehenge sits is at peak times an hour-long, bad-tempered grind – a torture to holidaymakers making for Devon and Cornwall, a drag on the economy of the south-west of England and a bane to locals. According to David Bullock, who works for the national road-building agency, Highways England: “On Fridays, for a person living in Amesbury, it is quite a torrid affair, if you want to go anywhere.”
But this gridlock is not easily resolved. Diverting the road is hard to do: north of the current route lies Britain’s biggest Ministry of Defence training area, south of it pristine countryside. Simply widening it is unthinkable: the Stonehenge heritage site is a precious prehistoric landscape. Governments have been trying, and failing, to solve the problem of the A303 since the 1980s: numerous plans have been suggested and then dropped, at the cost of untold millions. A dizzying number of bodies have been involved, representing every possible interest-group and opinion, from roadbuilders, heritage organisations, government departments and councils to the Campaign for the Preservation of the Lower Till Valley, the Stonehenge Traffic Action Group, the British Horse Society and the organisation that protects Europe’s heaviest flying birds, the Great Bustard Group.