As part of English Heritage’s project to transform the setting and visitor experience of Stonehenge, a section of the A344 road running right past the monument, almost touching the Heel Stone, will be permanently closed from today (Monday 24 June).
The section of the A344 to be closed is between Stonehenge Bottom (junction of A344 and A303) and Byway 12, which is closest to the monument and severs it from the Avenue, its ancient processional approach.
The closure will fulfil the commitment given by the UK Government to UNESCO in 1986 to remove the A344 where it crosses the Avenue and will facilitate greater access to the World Heritage Site.
Once the landscaping works are complete in June 2014 visitors will be able to approach and view the monument from the Avenue. A detailed laser analysis of the Stones' surface by English Heritage has further confirmed that this approach from the north-east was intended by Stonehenge’s prehistoric builders.
Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge Director, English Heritage, said: “The Stones have never failed to impress visitors, but for too long their setting has marred people’s appreciation and enjoyment of this special place. At last, this is going to change. For the first time in centuries, when all the works are complete, people will be able to experience this complex and extraordinary monument in a more tranquil, natural setting.”
Jan Tomlin, the National Trust General Manager for Wiltshire Landscape, said: “We welcome the closure of the A344 past Stonehenge – it is an important step towards the vision for the future of the monument. We have worked over the past decade to restore much of the land we own around Stonehenge to grassland and this is an important step in linking Stonehenge to the ancient landscape.”
From 24 June, traffic for Stonehenge and other nearby villages will be re-directed via Longbarrow Roundabout (junction of A303 and A360) and Airman’s Corner (junction of A360 and A344). Motorists travelling west on the A303 will see a sign in the vicinity of Stonehenge Bottom indicating that they should continue straight ahead for Stonehenge. There will also be signs at Longbarrow roundabout.
Over the summer, work will start to remove the high fences along the road and the road surface itself will be removed and grassed over. The closure is in accordance with the Stopping-Up Order granted by the Department for Transport in November 2011, following a public inquiry in June of that year. The Highways Agency has upgraded Longbarrow roundabout and English Heritage has created a new roundabout at Airman's Corner to accommodate the re-routed traffic.
The new Stonehenge visitor centre, located 1.5 miles away from Stonehenge, is scheduled to open in December 2013. The remaining section of the A344 between Airman's Corner and Byway 12 will be subject to a Traffic Regulation Order in the autumn and turn into the route of a new visitor shuttle service to and from the Stones.
In January 2014 work will start on decommissioning the existing facilities and returning the car park to grass with a small operational hub tucked into the landscape. The project will be completed in June 2014 when all the landscape restoration work have been carried out, although it will take some time for the newly seeded areas to establish fully.
The £27m project is financed almost entirely by Heritage Lottery Fund money (£10m), English Heritage commercial income and philanthropic donations including significant gifts from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Linbury Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.