Plans to permanently close a popular tourist route and commuter run between Marlborough and Avebury are to be considered under new proposals.
The mile-long B4003 follows the famous West Kennet Avenue of standing stones from the A4 at West Kennett to Avebury village.
But the draft Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site management plan 2015 – which is out to consultation until the beginning of March – suggests that the road should be closed to all but local landowners and farmers.
The closure would mean a two-and-a-half mile triangular detour via the Beckhampton roundabout for tourists and residents of the Kennet Valley travelling to Avebury, or picking up the A4361 to Swindon and the M4.
The recommendation is buried in the hefty 343-page report, which covers everything from education and interpretation, to conservation and tourism management at the two globally-important sites.
Section 11 of the report deals with the impact that roads and cars have on the World Heritage Sites (WHS) at Avebury and Stonehenge, and considers ways in which that impact can be minimised.
The agencies responsible for the management of the monuments – which include English Heritage, the National Trust and Wiltshire Council – recently scored a massive coup in having the A344, which ran alongside Stonehenge, closed and grassed over.
And £1.3bn plans to tunnel the nearby A303 were announced by the government in December, after more than 20 years on the drawing board.
While moving or tunnelling the A4 to bypass Silbury Hill and West Kennet long barrow is no longer on the cards – the hugely ambitious scheme was shelved in the 1960s – the report suggests that narrowing the road and lowering speed limits can have a positive impact on the safety and experience of visitors.
The mooted closure of the B4003, however, is likely to divide opinion, especially among local people who use it as a short-cut to Avebury and beyond.
The report recognises that the B4003 – along with the A4 and the A4361 between Beckhampton and Avebury village – effectively dissect the World Heritage Site into four sections.
And it quotes a 2010 report from English Heritage, which says that cars passing each other on the narrow road are causing erosion which “could spread into the upper layers of the monument” if allowed to continue.
The report’s authors – Avebury WHS officer Sarah Simmonds and Stonehenge WHS co-ordinator Beth Thomas – write: “The issue has been re‐evaluated as part of the Avebury WHS Transport Strategy produced by Atkins in 2014.
“A solution was identified that would both protect the internationally significant archaeology and provide a range of other benefits meeting the objectives of the holistic strategy and the aims and policies of the WHS.
“The study recommends the closure of the B4003 except for access for local landowners and farmers.
“This would protect the archaeology, enhance the setting of the West Kennet Avenue and the Henge, restore their interrelationship and provide a good quality walking environment and cycling route while avoiding the need for additional signage and clutter.
“It could also help improve road safety by the junctions with the A4361 and the A4 at the village of West Kennett where right turns have resulted in some collisions.”
The authors recognise that “The closure of the B4003 would deliver numerous benefits… but it is likely to cause concern amongst some residents who regularly use the road to avoid the extra distance and inconvenience of travelling on the A4 via Beckhampton.”
Nevertheless, the recommendation under Policy 6a is to “Review, develop and consult on measures for the B4003 identified in the Avebury WHS Transport Strategy to prevent damage from traffic to the West Kennet Avenue and facilitate movement of visitors within the WHS. Implement agreed outcomes.”
Sarah Simmonds presented a brief report to the Marlborough Area Board recently. And although her outline noted that traffic management formed part of the consultation, there was little opportunity for her to deliver anything other than bullet points regarding the contents of the report, to point people in the direction of the document, and to remind board members of the closing date of the consultation – 23:59hrs on Sunday, March 1.
The report – and the means to make a comment about any part on the consultation document – can be found online at http://consult.wiltshire.gov.uk/portal/spatial_planning/whs/stonehenge_and_avebury_whs_management_plan_2015