Highways England vows to continue with tunnel under Stonehenge

Highways England vows to continue with two-mile tunnel under Stonehenge despite High Court victory by critics of £1.7bn scheme

  • Company said it will proceed with handing out construction contracts for tunnel 
  • Three bids have been submitted and Highways England will announce choice  
  • Another £60m contract due to be given later this year to support construction

Highways England has vowed to continue developing a two-mile tunnel under Stonehenge despite High Court victory by critics of the £1.7billion scheme.   

The Government-owned company said it will proceed with handing out construction contracts for the road upgrade.

Three bids have been submitted, and Highways England is expected to announce its choice early next year.

A separate £60million contract is due to be awarded late this year for supporting the management of the construction work.

The tunnel is part of a £27billion masterplan to improve the nation’s roads, which was announced in March

The proposed tunnel is south of the current A303, which runs within a few hundred metres of the famous UNESCO world heritage site in Wiltshire. Pictured: An artist’s impression of the plans

Archaeological fieldwork and preliminary works scheduled to start later this summer have been postponed.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gave the go-ahead to the £1.7billion scheme to overhaul eight miles of the A303, including the two-mile tunnel, in November last year.

This was despite advice from Planning Inspectorate officials that it would cause ‘permanent, irreversible harm’ to the Unesco World Heritage Site in Wiltshire.

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) challenged his decision in the High Court, and on Friday Mr Justice Holgate ruled it was ‘unlawful’.

Those behind the scheme hope it will help tackle congestion and noise around the iconic site (pictured in March at the start of lockdown ) 

There was a ‘material error of law’ in the decision-making process because there was no evidence of the impact on each individual asset at the historic site, Mr Justice Holgate found.

He added that Mr Shapps failed to consider alternative schemes, in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and common law.

David Bullock, Highways England’s project manager for the scheme, said: ‘We have to wait while the Department for Transport considers its options, and in the meantime we are continuing with the process to appoint a contractor for the main works phase of the scheme.

For decades, motorists on the A303, which passes the stone circle, have endured severe congestion on the popular route to and from the South West

A £1.7billion plan to build a tunnel diverting traffic away from Stonehenge has been challenged in court. Pictured: An artist’s impression of the plans

‘We have now paused our plans to carry out early, preparatory work, but the procurement process is very much live to ensure we maintain programme timescales as best as possible.

‘We still believe our project is the best solution to the ongoing issues along the A303 past Stonehenge.

‘It has been developed after a long and extensive collaboration with our key stakeholders, and we are still very much motivated to leave a legacy beyond the road – for Stonehenge, the World Heritage Site, our local communities and future generations.’

The battle of Stonehenge: The 25 year fight over plans to build a tunnel near to the historic site 

1995: Proposals for a simple cut and cover tunnel are put forward by the government. They are criticised by groups including the National Trust.

2002: New plans for a properly bored tunnel are announced, at a cost of £183million.

2004: Despite opposition to the plans, a public inquiry finds the proposals as adequate. However, the scheme is ditched, with construction costs spiralling to £470million.

2015: The scheme is touted again, but it comes under fire from historian Dan Snow, who accused ministers of acting like ‘vandals and zealots’.

2017: The government approves plans for a tunnel again.

2018: Highways England holds a consultation for the scheme, with costs now at £1.6billion. The new plans include a grass covered canopy at one end to help it blend in with the landscape. The improvements are ‘welcomed’ by The National Trust, English Heritage and Historic England, but groups such as the Stonehenge Alliance continue their opposition. 

2018: Public-private funding model for the scheme is ditched by then-chancellor Philip Hammond.

February 2020: The scheme comes under scrutiny again after survey work shows project could now cost over £2billion.

March 2020: Rishi Sunak says the scheme will be included in a £27billion national roads investment plan.

June 2020: A team of archaeologists had discovered a ring of at least 20 large shafts within the World Heritage Site, a short distance from the stones.

November 2020: The latest scheme is given the green light again by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. The two-mile dual-carriageway tunnel is set to cost £1.7billion.

Source: Read Full Article