Tunnel to be built past Stonehenge

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The A303 past Stonehenge is a highly congested route

A tunnel is to be dug to take a congested main road past Stonehenge, the government has announced.

The 1.8-mile (2.9km) tunnel is part of a £2bn plan to make the A303 a dual carriageway.

A previous plan to build a tunnel on the route, which links London and the South West, was dropped seven years ago because of the cost.

Chancellor George Osborne said the plan would "transform" the A303 and "boost productivity" in the South West.

Image caption,
The A303 runs from Devon to Hampshire

Mark Baker, a former county councillor from Larkhill, Wiltshire, said the work was essential, but he was not convinced the project would happen.

He said: "It's a significant amount of money to spend, but we're in the dying days of this government and I fail to see how the coalition can make pledges and promises when they don't know who will form the next government."

Highways spokesman for Durrington Town Council, David Goodman, described it as "very, very good news", but said "we have been here before".

"We'll be optimistic when that first spade goes in the ground," he said.

Janice Hassett of the Stonehenge Traffic Action Group, which has campaigned for action to be taken to alleviate congestion on the A303 in the area, said the news "felt good", but "the package must be tied up so tightly that no government can unravel it".

'Tackle the bottleneck'

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the plan to "tackle the bottleneck at Stonehenge" would "get the funds it needs".

English Heritage, which runs the Stonehenge site, has previously described the bottleneck road as "highly detrimental" to the ancient monument.

Since the plan was dropped, local councils have continued to lobby for a tunnel and the widening of the A303.

Most recently, the head of the CBI, John Cridland, has backed the idea of a tunnel.

Senior Druid King Arthur Pendragon has also backed the idea of a tunnel, but only if there are "cast-iron" guarantees that any human remains found "are reinterred as close as possible to what should have been their final resting place".

A group that advises World Heritage body Unesco has warned a tunnel could have an "adverse impact" on the Stonehenge landscape.

In a letter seen by the BBC, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) said it wanted a solution that "respects and maintains" the value of the "iconic and unique site".

Ralph Smyth of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said it was "calling for a longer tunnel", as the proposed tunnel was too short and would create two "huge holes" which would affect the landscape around the World Heritage site.

The announcement is part of the government's infrastructure plan ahead of the Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

The plan also involves making part of the A303 in Somerset, between Sparkford and Ilchester, a dual carriageway.

Somerset will also see the A358, from the M5 at Taunton to the A303 at Southfields, become a dual carriageway.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat MP for Yeovil, welcomed the announcement saying both the A358 and A303 were "not fit for purpose" and suffer from "massive areas of congestion".

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