This week UNESCO and ICOMOS International will be at Stonehenge seeking opinions on the tunnel from “stakeholders” (who was invited? How were they selected?). Let’s hope everyone sings from the same hymn sheet, the one that says a short tunnel is unacceptable. In particular, let’s hope they express the following crucial points from an excellent article that has just appeared in “The Pipeline” ….
When asked about the Government’s commitment to Stonehenge as a UNESCO World Heritage Site Culture Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, told Parliament: “This Government will continue to honour its obligations under article 4 of the World Heritage Convention regarding the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. We are committed to working with UNESCO and its advisory bodies to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site is taken into consideration in any forthcoming road scheme. We will be closely monitoring the development of any such scheme as it progresses.”
This answer, and particularly the phrase “taken into consideration”, was seen by critics as equivocal at best and in a further written response, which the Stonehenge Alliance found highly disturbing, Lord Ahmad also revealed that Highways England’s preliminary planning for the tunnel scheme had not included any consultation with the UK branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS-UK). Critics would suggest that this is because they know precisely what answer they would get about anything other than the long tunnel option, and did not want to have such a response reported to Parliament, released under a Freedom of Information Act request or cited in a potential judicial review of any go ahead for a tunnel. That particular Whitehall ruse has failed because in November 2014 ICAMOS-UK stated in a letter seen by the BBC; “We appreciate the very real need to address the issue of the A303 and recognise that a tunnel could have beneficial impacts on parts of the World Heritage property,” adding in a crucial caveat; “However, we are concerned that associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the World Heritage landscape that cannot be set aside, however great the benefits of a tunnel.”