Stonehenge tunnel campaigners win court battle

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image source, Getty Images
image captionSave Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) has been battling the £1.7bn road project in the High Court

Campaigners have won a court battle to prevent the "scandalous" construction of a road tunnel near Stonehenge.

The £1.7bn Highways England project aimed to reduce A303 congestion but campaigners said it would detrimentally affect the world heritage site.

The government approved plans in 2020 for a two-mile (3.2km) tunnel to be created near the Wiltshire monument.

Mr Justice Holgate's ruling means the order granted by transport secretary Grant Shapps has been quashed.

image source, Highways England
image captionWork on the tunnel was expected to begin in 2023 and take five years to complete

Highways England said it wanted to build the tunnel to reduce traffic and cut journey times on the A303, which is the most direct route for motorists travelling between the South East and South West and is used by thousands of people daily.

The BBC understands the project will have to be frozen while the government considers its next steps.

In his ruling the judge found Mr Shapps' decision was "unlawful" on two grounds.

He found there was a "material error of law" in the government's decision-making process as there was no evidence of the impact on each individual asset at the site.

And he said Mr Shapps had failed to consider alternative schemes, in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and common law.

image source, PA Media
image captionSave Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) crowdfunded £50,000 at the end of 2020 to bring the legal action

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "We are disappointed in the judgment and are considering it carefully before deciding how to proceed."

In 2020, Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) crowdfunded £50,000 needed to bring a judicial review at the High Court.

John Adams, SSWHS's director, said: "We could not be more pleased about the outcome of the legal challenge.

"Now that we are facing a climate emergency, it is all the more important that this ruling should be a wake-up call for the government.

"It should look again at its roads programme and take action to reduce road traffic and eliminate any need to build new and wider roads that threaten the environment as well as our cultural heritage."

image source, Highways England
image captionThe eight-mile (12.8km) planned route included the Stonehenge tunnel, along with a new bypass at Winterbourne Stoke

SSWHS argued Mr Shapps did not properly consider the damage that would be done to a number of prehistoric sites and ancient artefacts, and that his approach to the World Heritage Convention was unlawful.

Highways England said the planned tunnel would remove the sight and sound of traffic passing the site and had aimed to start work on it in 2023.

Its acting chief executive, Nick Harris, said: "We now have to wait while the Department for Transport consider its options.

"We still believe our project is the best solution to the ongoing issues along the A303 past Stonehenge and was developed after a long and extensive collaboration with our key stakeholders."

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