|12 January 2017
Go-ahead to road tunnel under Stonehenge
A tunnel is to be built under Stonehenge under plans announced by British ministers, in a move that will reignite the controversy over improving major roads around the ancient site.
Chris Grayling, British Secretary of State for Transport, said he was taking a 'big decision' to turn the whole length the A303 road, which passes within a few hundred metres of Stonehenge, into a dual carriageway with a 1.8 mile long tunnel. More than 24,000 vehicles pass Stonehenge on the road every day, which campaigners have said disrupt the peace and tranquility of the World Heritage site.
Grayling said the tunnel could enhance the Stonehenge site by removing traffic. The concept has been backed by its custodians, English Heritage and the National Trust. But others regard it as a scheme that could irreparably damage the world heritage site. Last year, the historians Dan Snow and Tom Holland attacked the proposals.
"We have recently started to realise that the standing stones are just a beginning. They sit at the heart of the world's most significant and best-preserved stone-age landscape. The government's plans endanger this unique site," said Snow, the president of the Council for British Archaeology.
"There is so much waiting to be learned about how Stonehenge was built - if we decide, as a country, not to sacrifice it to road building. The battle to save our most significant neolithic landscape is an unending one," Tom Holland said. "It staggers belief that we can inject enormous quantities of concrete to build a tunnel that will last at best 100 years and therefore decimate a landscape that has lasted for millenia," he added.
Andy Rhind-Tutt, chairman of Amesbury Museum and president of the local chamber of commerce, says the "destructive" tunnel will "put a time bomb of irreversible destruction on one of the world's greatest untouched landscapes."
Mike Heyworth, director at the Council for British Archaeology, said: "Ideally we would like a longer tunnel. There is no doubt there will be benefits to removing the A303 from the immediate vicinity of Stonehenge but there will be potential damage if the portals are in sensitive locations. It is a very sensitive archaological landscape. Ideally we want it to avoid sensitive areas and to make sure it doesn't have any impact on views or the setting. There was a plan for 2.7mile tunnel and everybody regarded that as the gold standard, but obviously we have to be realistic about the state of public finances."
Up to £2bn ($2.4 billion, €2.3 billion)is being spent on the A303 and other works in the south-west as part of a £15bn road strategy announced in 2014. Proposals for a tunnel were first announced in 1989 but have since then been repeatedly shelved. The current plans will be put out to public consultation until 5 March. Following the consultation, the preferred route will be announced later in 2017 and will be subject to the completion of statutory procedures for development consent, with a view to starting work in 2020 and completing the new 'South West Expressway' by 2029.
Edited from The Guardian, The Telegraph, Council for British Archaeology, CNN (12 January 2017)
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