Stonehenge world heritage status at risk as tunnel plan is shelved – Times Online

Here we go again. Having spent the past decades going through the options and coming up with a solution that, whilst not perfect, was a compromise accepted by many and which stood up to Public Inquiry, we have suddenly been placed back in a state of flux, not knowing if the road scheme is on or off or what form it may or may not take. Anything could happen in the next half hour (or later this year when the government finally decide), with all cards back in play including the potential for miles of new dual carriageway through the World Heritage Site. Or nothing. Or perhaps those who campaigned so hard for a longer tunnel will suddenly get their way (unlikely given the decision seems to be based around project costs rather than archaeological issues). What is going on here? There was a public inquiry which reported and considerable work has been done over the years evaluating the various proposals and assessing their archaeological impact. A tunnel is the only option that does not involve excessive destruction of archaeological deposits within this important cultural landscape, removes the barrier through the heart of the World Heritage Site and satisfies the need for a dual-carriageway between London and the West. The only real question is how long it should be. I would hate to see the prolonged debate surrounding this topic to be used as an excuse to bulldoze through a scheme whose primary interests are transport issues and cost to the detriment of all else.

This news has been reported elsewhere by campaigners and is being seen as a positive thing and used as more ammunition against English Heritage; whilst it is true English Heritage supported the proposed tunnel scheme (and disagreed with the National Trust over it), this must be seen in context against the other options under scrutiny; long dual carriageways through the landscape going around the henge or a tunnel, the tunnel (even a short one) being the obvious choice. Lord Wayland also seems quite happy at the news, arguing a few cosmetic changes are all that is needed. It is the removal of the roads and restoration of the landscape that is important, not simply a few speed bumps and anyway how on earth is traffic calming on the A303 supposed to ease congestion…? And as for building a new car-park within the World Heritage Site, I’m sure the good folks at UNESCO would have been pleased with that example of best practice and how it would enhance the visitor experience, an important justification for the proposed works (hence the proposed visitor centre is outside the WHS, to allow space for facilities worthy of a world class tourst attraction without building in the vicinity of or even view of the stones). Going back to square one is an alarming development, contrary to the opinions of Save Stonehenge and others. It does not mean that the game is over; there is still a need for a new road to help with traffic issues (unless views on this have also changed with the wind) and having all options back open can only be a bad thing, having ruled most of them out as unacceptable previously.

To be fair, the area has now been thoroughly investigated using all available techniques and development would be preceded by yet more survey and excavation so the main issue is that of the landscape as a whole, how to reconstitute the space as an open landscape through which people are free to explore and experience; any new surface route would be catastrophic from this perspective, even if it did divert the road away from the stones themselves. I would like to see a longer tunnel so that the avenue can once again be walked along from the henge to the Avon but it comes down to how much we, as a society (or at least our elected representatives), are prepared to value such concerns when a cheaper option will suffice and satisfy the needs of the majority.

Stonehenge roads scheme condemned (Telegraph, 2002) and the National Trust calling for a longer tunnel; examples of how the debate was reported in the press at the time.

English Heritage’s previous letter from the Chairman to the Highways Agency outlining their position and stating in what ways the other options (surface routes and cut & cover tunnel) are unacceptable.