Stonehenge tunnel relaunched despite protests

Despite the opposition of associations for the defense of heritage and Unesco, the British government approved on July 14 a controversial plan to build a tunnel of about three kilometers near the ancient site of Stonehenge (south-west of England). This plan, the cost of which amounts to 1.7 billion pounds sterling (nearly two billion euros), consists of diverting the current A303 road which runs along the prehistoric site of Wiltshire into a new two-lane tunnel.

This is not the first time that the British government has tried to impose this site. In November 2020, Grant Shapps, then Minister of Transport, approved the initiative, in defiance of the recommendations of specialists, who considered that the road works would cause “permanent and irreversible damage” at the site. The project had been canceled by the High Court in 2021, which had raised concerns about the environmental impact. The judge declared the Minister’s decision “illegal”because Grant Shapps had not considered alternative solutions, although he was obliged to do so by the status of the site classified as World Heritage.

Despite this legal setback, the British government has not given up on its tunnel project. In a 64-page document, Mark Harper declared himself ” convinced “ that “damage to space, visual relationships and environment caused by the project is less significant [que le projet de 2020] and should be weighed against the benefits to the public”. Nick Harris, director of National Highways, the government agency responsible for planning the area, told the Telegram than the tunnel “will remove the sight and noise of traffic on this busy road and restore one of our most important World Heritage sites to its original setting”.

The Stonehenge site in southern England.

Arguments that are not enough to convince the defenders of the heritage, who fear an irremediable destruction of the landscape and the environment. Unesco opposed the tunnel as early as 2019, saying the initiative would have a ” negative impact “ on the prehistoric site, which has been a World Heritage Site since 1986. In 2021, the organization warned that Stonehenge would be placed on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger if the tunnel project was not changed.

Tom Holland, Association President The Stonehenge Alliancea coalition of environmental, archaeological and heritage groups, said in a statement that “Mark Harper’s decision to greenlight the construction of a tunnel through part of the World Heritage Site that surrounds Stonehenge is as inexplicable as it is outrageous”. Denouncing a plan which will be at the origin of “serious and irreversible damage”Kate Fielden, archaeologist and secretary of The Stonehenge Allianceraised the possibility of a new legal action.

Built in stages between approximately 3,000 and 2,300 BC, Stonehenge is one of the most significant prehistoric megalithic monuments in the world in terms of its size, sophisticated plan and architectural precision. It is located in the heart of a sacred landscape, which includes many other archaeological remains, such as tumuli, stone circles or megalithic alignments. The site is considered a place of worship, astronomical observation or celebration of the solstices.

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