Stonehenge campaigners make last-ditch bid to stop government building road tunnel next to ancient site

11 December 2023, 09:49

Stonehenge could have a tunnel built near it
Stonehenge could have a tunnel built near it. Picture: Getty/Highways England

By Kit Heren

Campaigners are making a final bid to block the government from building a road tunnel next to Stonehenge.

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Activists say that the two-mile tunnel would damage the ancient Wiltshire monument, citing a planning report that found it would cause "permanent, irreversible harm".

Campaigners have voiced fears the 5,000-year-old monument itself could be destabilised by excavation work.

The government and those in favour say that the tunnel would ease congestion and reduce traffic noise around Stonehenge.

The plans were first mooted in 2017 and approved in 2020. They were then overturned on appeal in 2021 following a campaign, before being given the go-ahead again by Transport Secretary Mark Harper earlier this year.

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Now activists have taken the case to the High Court for a further legal challenge, with the three-day hearing beginning on Tuesday. The campaigners say they want to take the tunnel to a legal review.

The government said the tunnel would cost £1.7 billion, but campaigners believe costs would actually come to £2.5 billion.

Tom Holland, the president of the Stonehenge Alliance campaign group, said: "Whether they’re stuck in a groove or obduracy or it’s electoral considerations, I just don’t know, but a tunnel will inflict unspeakable damage on Britain’s most significant prehistoric landscape."

Stonehenge's status as a UNESCO world heritage site could also be at risk if the tunnel is built.

Protesters in the previous court battle in 2021
Protesters in the previous court battle in 2021. Picture: Alamy

Mr Holland told the Guardian that that would be "not only... humiliating for Britain but disastrous for world heritage sites across the world. If a wealthy country like Britain trashes their world heritage sites, it bodes badly for the rest of the world.

"I just hope the high court will save them blowing £2.5bn they don’t really have."

John Adams, the group's chair, said the legal challenge was "David and Goliath stuff".

"We’re up against the might of the Department for Transport, National Highways and so on," he said. "We’re a small organisation – mostly retired people. But the court case is critical. It’s the only thing keeping the earth diggers away".

The Department for Transport declined to comment.

Stonehenge. Picture: Alamy

David Bullock, A303 Stonehenge Project Director for National Highways, said: "We acknowledge there is a clear process for any legal challenge, 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 on site in 2024.”

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