| 9 December 2007
Stonehenge tunnel plans scrapped
Plans to build a road tunnel under Stonehenge have been scrapped.
The decision to axe the 1.3 mile tunnel along with a bypass to the west of the monument and a flyover to the east follows a detailed review of the plans by the Department for Transport. The Government’s decision also means that English Heritage, which owns the site, has had to cancel plans for a £67 million visitor centre, and English Heritage said it is very disappointed plans have been shelved. Bodies including the Council for British Archaeology, the International Council for Monuments and Sites and the National Trust, were among those advocating a longer tunnel to protect Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site since 1986.
After years of argument over how to ease congestion around the stone circle in Wiltshire, ministers said they had decided that a tunnel would cost too much. The announcement, made in a parliamentary statement, concluded the £540m for the proposed tunnel scheme could not be justified. The cost of the 2.1km-long (1.3 mile) scheme had soared from £223m. Transport Minister Tom Harris said allocating such sums "cannot be justified and would not represent best use of taxpayers' money". He also ruled out other options that would have taken the A303 well to the north or south of the stones, on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. At present, the A303 runs 150 yards from the stones. It is one of the few remaining single-carriageway sections of the key holiday route to Devon and Cornwall and is heavily congested in the spring and summer. In a parliamentary written answer, Mr Harris said "The government recognises the importance of the A303 Stonehenge improvement scheme and that the announcement would come as a considerable disappointment for the project's supporters."
The decision was welcomed by the Save Stonehenge organisation. Spokesman Chris Woodford said that only a 1.3-mile section of the proposed 7.7-mile route would have been underground and that the decision "was the only sensible outcome". Denise Carlo, of the Campaign for Better Transport (formerly Transport 2000), said: "We've been saying for years that the plan to build a tunnel and road through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site would be an environmental and financial disaster." But shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: "Stonehenge's World Heritage status will be in jeopardy if this problem remains unsolved." Ms Villiers said the United Nations' cultural arm Unesco had called on the government in July to explain its lack of progress on the scheme, which was announced in 1998. "A solution is further away than ever despite £23 million having been spent on preparations for a tunnel which is no longer going to be built. Why has this government taken 10 years only to come back to square one? This is one of the most notorious traffic bottlenecks in the country, it impacts on great swathes of the south west who will feel betrayed by this announcement. One of our greatest cultural icons has been left in limbo for a decade as a result of this government's total inability to make a decision or deliver on their very clear promises."
The British Government remains committed to working with stakeholders in investigating options for improving the environment of Stonehenge, including new visitor facilities, and exploring possible small scale measures to improve traffic flows and safety along this section of the A303. The Liberal Democrats said the decision "Puts a UNESCO World Heritage site at risk of damage from the ever-increasing volume of traffic." English Heritage issued a statement saying "It is encouraging that the Government recognises that improving the setting of the Stones and the visitor facilities is a priority. English Heritage will work closely with other stakeholders to look into alternative ways to achieve this."
Sources: UK Department for Transport, BBC News, 24 Hour Museum, Salisbury Journal, Reuters, The Scotsman (6 December 2007), Telegraph.co.uk, Times Online (7 December 2007)
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