Regular readers will know that for years we’ve been worrying that the Government will impose a cheap short tunnel (with damaging cuttings at each end) on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site – and thus go back to the solution opposed by almost every archaeological and heritage organisation but cancelled only because of the credit crunch. Now it looks as if this highly damaging spectre has risen again with two short tunnel options being discussed, with the only other option said to be a northern bypass. (The latter sounds so impractical, disruptive, damaging and expensive it’s hard to believe anyone is serious about it. Could it be a mere “Aunt Sally” option, set up to be universally rejected to give the impression the public has been involved in a choice?)

We know there is a traffic problem and a solution has to be found to combat the misery of the A303. But here’s the thing: last time, nearly everyone said the short tunnel option was unacceptable. How then can it now be acceptable, particularly when Professor Vince Gaffney and others have now discovered hundreds of new features within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site? How would access roads to a short tunnel be fitted between those?

Here is a letter just sent to the Government by the Stonehenge Alliance:

THE STONEHENGE ALLIANCE

From the Chairman, George McDonic, MBE, BL, DIPLTP, FRTPI, DPA, FFB
To  The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP,  Secretary of State for Transport
Sent by email on 3 October, 2014

Dear Secretary of State,

Proposals for the A303 at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Alliance* is a group of non-Government organisations and individuals originally formed in 2001 which maintains a watch over any major new development that would adversely impact on the World Heritage Site (WHS). We are writing to request your intervention in the current process concerning proposed road improvements affecting the site.

The A303 is currently one of six identified road corridors subject to feasibility studies to examine possible improvements. It is most regrettable that this process has focused on road improvements rather than on considering more sustainable transport alternatives.  We have grave concerns about the impacts that the proposed road options might have on the WHS.

Stonehenge is an iconic symbol of Britain’s past people and culture.  It is a significant draw both nationally and internationally and important culturally and economically. Yet as important as the Stones are, it is their context, the surrounding landscape, which helps make them so special. This is recognised in the designation of the Stonehenge WHS which covers nearly 27 square kilometres. The importance of the surrounding landscape was highlighted in the recent BBC TV Operation Stonehenge series which identified numerous new sites in the wider WHS area.

At the last Corridor Feasibility Study Reference Group, a bored tunnel between 2.5 and 2.9km long as well as a northern trunk road diversion, were proposed for the A303 at Stonehenge for further investigation, while a request for a long bored tunnel of at least 4.5km to be costed was dismissed outright. All of the options now under consideration for the A303 at Stonehenge could inflict severe and irreversible damage upon the WHS and its setting and might well lead to the WHS being considered for the World Heritage in Danger List.  A longer tunnel would avoid this.

The current approach appears to be pursuing options contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework and at odds with advice from UNESCO and, notably, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in its Guidance on Heritage Impact Assessments for Cultural World Heritage Properties (2011).

We urge you to intervene in the study to ensure that a long bored tunnel of at least 4.5km (for which Highways Agency drawings were done c.2001) be examined and costed alongside the shorter tunnel option already put forward by the Corridor Feasibility Study Reference Group. There is real concern about the haste in which the study is being progressed and we request that greater time for consultation and engagement is taken in order to safeguard this iconic cultural asset.

I look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely,
George McDonic, Chairman, the Stonehenge Alliance

Copies to:  Baroness Kramer, Minister of State for Transport,
Rt. Hon. John Hayes MP, Minister for Roads,
Julian Glover, Special Adviser,
Mary Creagh MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport,
Richard Burden MP, Shadow Minister for Roads,
John Glen, MP for Salisbury,
Claire Perry, MP for Devizes,
Sir Simon Jenkins, Chairman, The National Trust,
Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General,The National Trust,
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive, English Heritage,
Susan Denyer, Secretary, ICOMOS-UK,
Petya Totcharova, Head of Europe and North America Unit, UNESCO World Heritage Centre,
Dr Mike Heyworth, Director, Council for British Archaeology,
Alistair Sommerlad, Chairman, Stonehenge and Avebury WHS Partnership Panel