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The A303 Stonehenge tunnel – where are we now

The Transport Minister, Grant Shapps, has recently approved the proposal for a tunnel at Stonehenge, and some of our Members have been asking for clarification of the current position in this long-running saga.

The Planning Inspectorate, after a lengthy process including a public inquiry, recommended against approving the tunnel because of the damage that it would cause to the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage Site (WHS). The Minister did not follow the recommendation and decided to approve the Scheme. A Judicial Review of this decision is now in prospect, this will take some time. No work will start (including archaeological excavation) until this process is complete.

We been involved in the long history of proposals to improve the A303 and to remove traffic from the World Heritage Site. We consulted our members and developed responses that were agreed by our Trustees, whilst recognising that there were many different views. We gave evidence at the Public Inquiry on the Development Control Order (DCO). All the details can be read on the dedicated A303 page on our website, but below are the key points:-

  • We understand that the government has decided that improving the route of the A303 will take place and that to ‘do nothing’ is therefore not an option.
  • We felt that a route to the south of the Stonehenge part of the WHS was the best option to preserve the OUV of the Stonehenge part of the World Heritage Site.
  • Placing the A303 in a tunnel will significantly reduce the severance of the northern and southern parts of the WHS, but the tunnel portals and new cutting alongside the Winterbourne Stoke barrow cemetery will create a new and permanent severance.
  • We welcome the removal of traffic from the vicinity of the stones and the closure of byways for the use of non-motorised use only.
  • We feel that the current Scheme will have a significant impact on the OUV of the WHS. Our view remains that the tunnel should have been extended beyond the boundaries of the WHS and that it is especially important that the western tunnel portal is located outside the WHS.
  • We did not endorse the Scheme that has been agreed and our response to consultations was given with the aim of minimising any impact on the WHS.

We recognise that all the organisations involved have been acting in good faith and noted that the work involved in the preparation of the Scheme and the DCO process has been exemplary, with good quality reports prepared and great care taken to identify and minimise any impact on archaeology and the environment. We have also been concerned that some of the arguments used in opposition to the Scheme could be desribed as being misleading.

If the tunnel does proceed, then we will engage with the next stages of the project in line with our Mission Statement – to inspire people to explore the Archaeology, History and Environment of Wiltshire.

David Dawson BA AMA FSA, Director, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society.