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Controversial Stonehenge tunnel gets government approval

07.12.2020

The government has given the go-ahead for a controversial two-mile tunnel under Stonehenge.

The Ministry of Transport announced approval for the £1.7 million project, designed to tackle frequent congestion along the A303 near the stones in Wiltshire. 

The decision comes despite official warnings that the project will cause “permanent irreversible harm” to the World Heritage Site.
First proposed in the late Eighties, plans for the Stonehenge tunnel have been repeatedly rejected due to fears of damaging archaeological areas and artifacts around the monument. 

Now approved, the project will see the single carriageway along the A303 turned into a dual-carriageway tunnel running under the ancient site. 

Highways England says the tunnel will remove the sight and sound of traffic passing the popular tourist area, while cutting journey times for both tourists and commuters travelling to and from the South West. 

But environmentalists and archaeologists are still openly opposed to the project due to its potential destructive impact.
A Stonehenge campaign group plans to sue the UK government over the scheme. The group's lawyer says that the project breaches UNESCO’s World Heritage convention. The Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) association has launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover legal costs and aims to raise £50,000 towards the first leg of the challenge.  The group has hired law firm Leigh Day. 

SSWHS argues in its letter that Mr Shapps adopted an unlawful approach to the consideration of harm to heritage, his reliance on the advice of Historic England was misplaced, the reasons for his conclusion on heritage harm were inadequate and unintelligible, and his actions are in breach of the World Heritage Convention (WHC). 

Greenpeace UK head of transport, Richard George criticised the government’s decision, saying: “This new road tunnel will be a disaster for England’s heritage and the world’s climate. 

“If the Government is serious about a green recovery from the pandemic, it should be investing in public transport, but instead we’re getting more traffic and more pollution.” 

Highways England project director Derek Parody said it is collaborating with heritage groups such as English Heritage, National Trust and Historic England to ensure the scheme will “conserve and enhance” the World Heritage Site. 

Preparatory work on the project is due to begin in spring next year, with the five-year construction phase expected to start by 2023, one year later than originally planned. 

A request was made in September under the Freedom of Information Act for details of the tender to contractors and payments already made to contractors. Highways England response was that three contractors have expressed interest and final tenders will be in the Spring 2021. 

There is now a six-week period in which the decision can be challenged in the High Court.