Court Hearing For Proposed £1.7bn Stonehenge Tunnel Scheme

The National Highways plans for the £1.7bn road tunnel underneath the Stonehenge World Heritage Site are facing another hurdle in the High Court in December.

The plans for the £1.7bn road tunnel underneath the Stonehenge World Heritage Site are facing another hurdle in the High Court during December. National Highways want to build a road tunnel to ease traffic pressure on the A303, which is prone to long tailbacks during busy periods.

The plan is to construct a new 12.8km section of dual carriageway, including a new 3.3km tunnel near to the ancient monument. This is intended to tackle bottlenecks and improve journey times and access to the south west. It is predicted that better traffic flow will benefit the local communities and boost the economy of the area. 

The government’s original decision to approve the scheme was overturned in the High Court in 2021. However, after some further information about the carbon impact of the tunnel was provided in 2022, the decision was eventually approved in July 2023. 

Now, campaign groups are making a second bid to block the proposal in the High Court, BBC News reports. David Bullock, A303 Stonehenge project director for National Highways, said: “We acknowledge there is a clear process for any legal challenge.”

He added: “We are taking part in that legal process and we remain confident this scheme is the best solution for tackling a long-standing traffic bottleneck, improving journeys, bringing much needed relief to local communities and boosting the economy in the south-west, while conserving and enhancing the World Heritage Site.”

“In the meantime, and following the granting of the scheme’s development consent order, we are continuing to plan and make preparations for starting preliminary work and archaeology fieldwork in 2024.”

Protestors, including historians, archaeologists, and environmental groups, argue that the tunnel could cause permanent damage to the historic site, which was constructed on Salisbury Plain in phases between 3100 BC to 1600 BC. It is thought that it was of international religious significance, and many artefacts have been discovered.

There are fears that the site could lose its UNESCO World Heritage status, which could affect tourism. However, those in favour argue that visitors will be able to appreciate the monument more because there will be less traffic and air and noise pollution. 

The Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site campaign (SSWHS) successfully challenged the government’s decision in 2021, and is now back in court. 

John Adams, chair of the Stonehenge Alliance and one of the three directors of SSWHS, said: “In the face of Government indifference to the harm this road will cause the World Heritage Site, we had no choice but to bring this legal action.”

He added: “As before we hope we are successful in overturning this proposed vandalism. We hope justice will be served over the next three days.”

The lawyers acting for SSWHS are hoping to prompt a judicial review of the decision to grant a development consent order to the road scheme. A petition with over 230,000 signatures against the scheme has been presented in court. The defence team are due to present their case over the coming days.

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