Home Arts Controversial Stonehenge tunnel project gets green light from UK government

Controversial Stonehenge tunnel project gets green light from UK government

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The British government has approved a controversial plan to build a two-mile tunnel near the ancient site of Stonehenge, a move described as “shameful” by opposing heritage groups. Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, has decided to give the go-ahead to the controversial project which initially cost £1.7bn.

The redesign of the area, overseen by the government agency known as National Highways, involves rerouting the A303 road which runs alongside the prehistoric site in Wiltshire into a new dual carriageway tunnel while the current A303 will be turned into a footbridge public.

Unesco previously formally opposed the plan, saying in 2019 that the tunnel initiative would have a “negative impact”. In 2021 it warned that Stonehenge could be put on its list of World Heritage Sites in Danger if the tunnel project is not changed. (Unesco had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing).

In November 2020, Grant Shapps, then Transport Secretary, approved the scheme, but a High Court decision in 2021, which raised concerns about the environmental impact on the Unesco World Heritage site, has led to the cancellation of the project.

In a 64-page document, Harper said he was “satisfied” that the project’s “damage to spatial, visual and parameter relationships is less than substantial and should be weighed against the public benefits.” Meanwhile, Nick Harris, the chief executive of National Highways, told the Telegraph that the proposed scheme “will remove the sight and noise of traffic from this busy road and restore one of our most important World Heritage sites to something like its original setting”.

But Michael Parker Pearson, professor of later British prehistory at University College London, says The arts journal“I am disappointed by the weakness of [conservation body] Historic England in all of this. They are supposed to fight for the preservation of the remnants of our ancient past, and they have failed. Unesco, the CPRE Countryside Charity and the Council for British Archaeology, along with planning inspectors and the High Court, have all said the scheme is not enough. But historic England has moved on to national highways.

Indeed, in a press release, Duncan Wilson, the managing director of Historic England said he was “very satisfied” with the government’s decision. “By tunneling much of the busy A303 beyond Stonehenge, the intrusive sight and noise of traffic in front of the iconic monument will be significantly reduced. The project will enable this outstanding prehistoric landscape, which has had deep meaning for people for over 5,000 years, to reconnect,” he adds.

Meanwhile, Tom Holland, the chairman of an association of campaign groups called The Stonehenge Alliance, said in a statement: ‘Mark Harper’s decision to give the go-ahead for the construction of a tunnel through a stretch of the World Heritage Site that surrounds Stonehenge is as inexplicable as it is shameful.

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