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17 August 2004
Stonehenge tunnel faces tough road ahead

Conservation groups, the Highways Agency and white-robed druids -- a pagan order that celebrates Stonehenge as a centre of spiritualism -- are fighting over a 200 million pound proposal for a 2.1 km (1.3 miles) long tunnel near the ancient site.
     Pro and anti groups have exchanged verbal volleys at a long-running public inquiry, but if the tunnel gets the green light, civil debate could easily escalate into civil disorder. "If the government is talking about building this tunnel next summer it wouldn't surprise me if people were right now preparing to stand in front of bulldozers," said Chris Woodford of the Save Stonehenge group. "It might well come to more radical forms of action to stop this project," he added.
     Proponents of the scheme, including English Heritage, the guardians of the site, say the tunnel will cut traffic congestion and reduce accidents along a major route that stretches from London into southwest England. They say the tunnel will also benefit the site, by hiding passing vehicles and reducing noise pollution. Opponents, a myriad of pressure groups including "Stonehenge Alliance" and "Save Stonehenge", say the project will scar the landscape. For them, the proposals prove the government cares more about motorists than preserving the integrity of a centuries old landmark.
     The Highways Agency, which is behind the tunnel, says it recognises Stonehenge as one of Britain's most beloved national treasures and promises its designs will improve, not harm it. "To improve the environment at Stonehenge we're proposing a tunnel to remove the roads and the traffic to restore the landscape at the stones and make it a peaceful and quiet spot," said project director Chris Jones. "Traffic and noise are spoiling the site for visitors and traffic congestion is terrible at weekends ... If these plans don't go through things will only get worse."
     In an ironic twist to the debate, some groups opposing the tunnel don't want it scrapped -- they want it longer. Current proposals would have the entrance and exit both carved into land within Stonehenge's surrounding World Heritage grounds, a plan groups like ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) oppose. "The tunnel simply isn't long enough and its above ground sections impinge on the overall unity and universal values of the site," said Susan Denyer of ICOMOS. "Stonehenge is not a single monument; it is a collection of monuments, so it needs to be looked at as a whole ... The current scheme preserves the main monument but it effects the archaeological remains around it," she added.
     The Highways Agency says a tunnel long enough to avoid digging on the World Heritage Site would need to be five km (three miles) and push costs to an unfeasible 500 million pounds. So it is unlikely the final plans -- whatever they are -- will please everybody.

Source: Reuters (16 August 2004)

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