By John Glen MP and City Minister
At the time of writing, the last of our schools are breaking up for the summer.
For a handful of students, it is an uncertain time, as no longer are they able to start their planned courses at South Wiltshire UTC, slated for closure. I have been a long-time supporter of the UTC and a firm believer in the concept of a greater emphasis on technical education.
Although it was unwelcome news of the closure of the South Wiltshire UTC in August 2020, I understand that with approximately only 50 students on the roll, it was a long way from achieving viability. To turn it around would have taken years – with no ultimate guarantee of success.
Upon hearing the news earlier this month, I spoke to ministers and officials and impressed upon them that it is imperative the site on Wilton Road remains focussed on providing technical education courses and not sold off for housing or other uses. There are a number of suitable local partners, such as Wiltshire College and the Magna Learning Partnership, where there are obvious synergies, to keep the site retained for its original intended use.
I have also been assured that, although the UTC will not be taking on new students in Years 10 to 12, those students returning in September to complete Years 11 and 13 will be fully supported to the end of their studies.
As usual, with the summer holidays properly underway, many local people will find themselves caught in peak A303 traffic and longing for a solution to the pinch point at Stonehenge.
I can confirm that, contrary to recent rumours, which were greeted with alarm by many residents of Shrewton, Winterbourne Stoke and Berwick St James, the A303 Stonehenge project is proceeding. Highways England has opened the 18-month procurement process to select the specialist contractors for the project.
Although there will be benefits for local villages currently used as rat runs and a reduction in delays suffered by local A303 users, it is primarily a national project. As a major strategic route to the South West, improving journey times on the A303 will be a boon to the entire regional economy.
This is why the government is prioritising investment at Stonehenge.
The preferred scheme proposed by Highways England is the best way of cutting journey times while being sensitive to the unique archaeology and environment of the World Heritage Site.
We are close to the limits of affordability for the project, but a less costly scheme would not include such extensive archaeological and environmental protections, while a longer tunnel would push the cost higher still.
Of course, the A303 is not the only area of problem congestion.
I am continuing to press Highways England and the Department for Transport to prioritise the Southampton Road stretch of the A36 for additional funding. Last month I met Highways England officials in Parliament once again to stress the need to take action on what is one of the most congested roads in Wiltshire.
(John Glen was re-appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury and City minister in the new Boris Johnson government.)