Written statement to Parliament, 16 July 2020
Transport update: construction of new carriageway for A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down in Wiltshire.
Department for Transport
Following notification of a recent archaeological find within the World Heritage Site, the deadline for the decision is to be further extended to 13 November 2020 (an extension of 4 months) to enable further consultation on and consideration of this matter before determination of the application by the Secretary of State.
The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to give development consent.
Will the tide of protest that continues to break over plans for a road tunnel under the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS) be sufficient to shut down the scheme? Some form of relief road has been proposed, in various forms, for the past 50 years.
On Friday (July 17, 2020) Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps must rule on an application by Highways England for consent to build a tunnel 2.9 km (1.8 miles) long to reroute the A303 away from the Stonehenge stones. Currently this busy road to the West Country passes within metres of the prehistoric structure.
The £1.6bn scheme would upgrade the A303 to Expressway standard. In addition to the tunnel, with twin portals in deep dual-carriageway cuttings, all within the WHS, there would be junctions, described as “Expressway Interchange” and Expressway Flyover” on its boundaries.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has stated that the project would impact adversely the “Outstanding Universal Value” of the property. It, together with academics, UK campaign bodies and the wider public, has urged the UK government to explore further options.
Professor Mike Parker Pearson, leading authority on the British Neolithic, said in a press release (Oct 26, 2018):
“The Stonehenge World Heritage Site is one of the few places… where you can see a special, sacred landscape developed over thousands of years. A landscape that is unique in world terms, and really should be protected in perpetuity.
“To tunnel beneath part of the WHS and gouge huge cuttings through archaeologically sensitive ground for a 4-lane Expressway [would be] a disastrous decision by Government.”
The Stonehenge Alliance, a group of non-governmental organisations and individuals, with other organisations, is challenging the UK Government to place the A303 Stonehenge scheme on hold and seek alternative options not damaging to the WHS, as advised by UNESCO.
It notes, too, that the climate emergency declared by the Government and its commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 will be accompanied by substantial changes predicted in car journeys and use over the next 10-20 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought greater uncertainty to projections of traffic growth and the need for road improvements, with the prospects of significant changes to working practices, possibly impacting on travel habits.