Proposed Stonehenge road scheme will compromise ancient monument’s setting and sacred precinct

In an unprecedented move, 21 experts on Stonehenge have joined together in their objection to the A303 tunnel scheme proposed by Highways England. The group comprises senior archaeologists, among them 12 professors, who have carried out internationally recognised research within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS) within the last ten years or more.

The group welcomes schemes to improve the setting of Stonehenge and associated monuments, but feels strongly that the short tunnel scheme (of 2.9km) places important archaeological remains at undue risk, and impacts on the integrity of the WHS. The group’s principal objections are that:

  • The creation of new sections of dual carriageway and slip roads beyond the tunnel but still within the boundary of the WHS would set a dangerous precedent by allowing large-scale destructive development within a WHS, potentially threatening its status and integrity.
  • The construction of the western tunnel portal and new sections of road would destroy part of a sacred precinct created around Stonehenge and the Normanton Down barrow group 3500 years ago. This massive enclosure, originally comprising ditches, banks and palisades (known as the Stonehenge Palisade) is an integral part of Stonehenge’s sacred landscape. Furthermore, the westerly section of new road would run through an area with an unusual and nationally important concentration of long barrows (burial monuments) belonging to the millennium prior to Stonehenge.
  • The proposed siting of the western tunnel portal and its approach road will generate light pollution that would impact on the key midwinter sunset alignment from Stonehenge.
  • At its eastern end, construction of the tunnel portal here may have an effect on groundwater conditions which could detrimentally impact the survival of nationally important Mesolithic remains at Blick Mead.
  • There has been no effective consultation with the expert group, who between them have unprecedented knowledge of the prehistoric landscape of the WHS.

 The iconic status of Stonehenge and international importance of associated archaeological remains within its landscape demand that a scheme is devised which offers the highest standard in heritage protection. The group requests that other options be given further consideration, including the creation of a longer tunnel or a southern surface loop that avoids the WHS.

Simon Jenkins, ex Chairman of The National Trust, cuts through the false narrative of “a tunnel intended to restore tranquility” with devastating accuracy. Time is short, please act today.

“Stonehenge is not like France’s Lascaux Caves, so fragile they have had to be closed in favour of a facsimile. What you see is what you get, robust stones requiring little upkeep. Indeed their thrill is as much the view from afar as from close to, and is enjoyed by millions who drive past on their way to the West Country. It is the thrill of a glimpse, a passing reminder of the longevity of human habitation in this land. I love this view, as I do the distant sight of Lindisfarne or Arundel or Dover. Motorists are as entitled as paying visitors to delight in the English landscape.

English Heritage’s vision of Stonehenge is of a disordered jumble of stones set in a lawn within a serene park. Fair enough, but for millions of people the distant view from the road is no less valid. I find it extraordinary to spend, at the last count, £540 million marginally to improve the Stonehenge environs for one group of beneficiaries.

The A303 bottleneck could be cured by leaving the existing road one way westbound, and finding an alternative pathway to the south for an eastbound route. The landscape would look much as it does now but without the jams. Motorists would continue to get an uplifting glimpse of their past. The Wiltshire hillside would be scarred but it would not be torn open. Millions of pounds would be saved.”


Should millions of travellers be deprived forever of this iconic view – and is the promise that paying customers would then have a tranquil experience false and impossible to deliver? Please tell Highways England how you feel by the end of today.

It’s a plain fact: 21 top archaeologists have announced they are opposed to the short tunnel yet Highways England is ignoring them and says: “We are working closely with key organisations within the World Heritage site, and we continue to find the best solution possible to improve journeys for drivers while also protecting Stonehenge.” But logic suggests that if Highways England was really focused on protecting Stonehenge it wouldn’t be “working closely” with the organisations answerable to the Government but with those 21 top archaeologists who aren’t. Yes?

So how could we have got to the brink of such a tragic position? Andy Brockman explains – see “Expert Submission poses Stonehenge dilemma for Historic England, English Heritage and National Trust“….
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne changed Historic England’s mission from that of being primarily a conservation body and the Government’s arms length technical and legal advisor as guardian of England’s heritage, to one of supporting explicitly what the Government defines in the National Planning Policy Framework as “sustainable development”. If the Government is determined eventually to force through the short tunnel option on the basis that it represents such a sustainable solution to a national infrastructure issue, the archaeologists at Historic England could find themselves forced to defend, support, and even promote, a solution which the rest of the archaeological and heritage world views as utterly unacceptable, possibly because the senior management of the body might fear being further sidelined and starved of resources by a vengeful Whitehall and Downing Street.


As might be expected, Rescue’s consultation response is both comprehensive and inarguable, see here, it’s well worth reading, but we’d like to highlight one particular sentence :


The inarguable reality is that the tunnel is too short to avoid inflicting massive new damage on what English Heritage say is “an outstandingly rich archaeological landscape” and moving one end  of it marginally would NOT change that fact. It is hard to imagine professional archaeologists don’t know that, so recent statements by Historic England, The National Trust and English Heritage that they have concerns about particular aspects of the proposals looks more like reputation protection than heritage protection. Their single concern should be that they are supporting the scheme at all.


“Stonehenge is an icon of our islands. Together with the surrounding landscape it is an archaeological treasure store without parallel in Europe.

Highways England are supposed to be consulting us on their plans until 5 March – but shockingly they are offering no real choice. Both their proposed schemes involve tunnel entrances inside the World Heritage Site. Either option would be bound to inflict massive damage.”


Please use the letter to tell Highways England they must think again.  If you would like more information please see these detailed objections on the website of our allies The Stonehenge Alliance.”

Two weeks ago we linked to this video by Julian Richards in which he destroyed the pro-short tunnel case. Now he’s done it again, this time in print. It’s important because it contains a number of clear key statements which  the pro-short tunnel lobby, with its yowling moggy claims (25 so far) simply can’t refute. Here are the three central ones:

  • “Firstly it is simply too short.”
  • “This scheme needs to be re-thought.”
  • “If we go ahead with it as it is then I am convinced that future generations will judge us harshly and ask what were we thinking of to allow this to happen to such an important World Heritage landscape.”

We should like to add our own speculation – that most of those employed by English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust are privately in agreement with those three points and are distressed by the public stance being adopted by their organisations. How could they not be? And no, “The Government insists” is not a morally acceptable excuse!

“Heritage Watch” has just published the standard definition of Heritage Crime in which the only reference to metal detecting is “unauthorised excavation and metal detecting (also known as night hawking)” thereby obscuring the reality.  The commonest (and most damaging) heritage crime relating to metal detecting is surely telling a farmer you took finds home without showing him as they were of no value when they were – and then covering your tracks by not reporting it to PAS.


Lest anyone thinks that’s not a heritage crime here are the bits from the Heritage Watch definition that fit it like a glove:
“any offence which targets the historic environment”
“crimes against cultural property”
“anti-social behaviour”
“metal theft”
and “theft of historical and cultural property”
(to which you could add  fraud and obtaining money under false pretences.)


Lest anyone thinks it’s not widespread, this question hangs in the air: why does almost every finds agreement (including the “model” ones offered by the detecting bodies) fail to contain this simple, respectable clause: “I the detectorist will take nothing home without first showing it to the landowner”. It’s time Britain woke up. (Or more accurately, stopped pretending it’s not happening.)






image-of-the-year                                                                          [Image by Alastair Reid]


It’s a hieroglyph which says ordinary people love heritage but national guardians are too weak.


March 2017
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