The British Government has given the go-ahead for a controversial tunnel to be built near Stonehenge, the beloved 5000-year-old monolithic stone circle in southwest England that is a celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site of significance. While authorities have said that works can be carried out safely, campaigners have expressed huge concern over the decision.
Last week the application for the £2 billion A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down project was given development consent by Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps. According to a statement released by the Planning Inspectorate for England and Wales, the new section of dual carriageway aims to address problems associated with the single road between Amesbury’s Countess roundabout and the dual carriageway to the west of Winterbourne Stoke.
Members of Stonehenge Alliance, an organization set up to secure the future of the site, have met the news with frustration. “The decision is disastrous – not only for the physical damage the tunnel scheme would cause to a World Heritage Site of global value to mankind but also for the message it sends to the world about our government’s lack of concern for our heritage,” Kate Fieldon of the Stonehenge Alliance told Lonely Planet. The alliance also expressed deep concern for the items, artifacts and sites of interest that potentially remain unfound underneath Stonehenge, claiming that the work will also change the landscape forever with deep cuttings through prehistoric burial cemeteries and fragmentary settlement remains. There is currently a petition against the decision online.
“There has been a great deal of public interest in this project. A major priority for us over the course of the examination was to ensure that communities who might be affected by this proposal had the opportunity to put forward their views. As always, the Examining Authority gave careful consideration to these before reaching its conclusion,” said the Planning Inspectorate’s Chief Executive, Sarah Richards.
English Heritage, who care for over 400 sites across the country, including Stonehenge, welcomed the decision, however. “This is a landmark day for Stonehenge. We’ve already seen the enormous improvement brought about by removing the A344 and the old visitor facilities from beside the stones. Placing the noisy and intrusive A303 within a tunnel will reunite Stonehenge with the surrounding prehistoric landscape and help future generations to better understand and appreciate this wonder of the world,” said English Heritage’s Chief Executive, Kate Mayor. English Heritage added that “It is vital that the final scheme must be designed and delivered to the highest standards.”
Responding to the decision, Richard George, head of transport at Greenpeace UK, said "This new road tunnel will be a disaster for England's heritage and the world’s climate. The Planning Inspectorate spent months reviewing the evidence and concluded that the tunnel would trash one of our most important heritage sites and should not be built. 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."
There now comes a period of six weeks where the decision can be challenged in the British High Court.