Heritage bodies at odds over Stonehenge tunnel

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 02.05.2018
Icomos-UK calls for entire project to be put on hold
Several of the UK's heritage bodies are at odds over Highways England's plans to build a £1.6bn road tunnel in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

The three agencies responsible for the care of the site, the National Trust, English Heritage and Historic England, have expressed broad approval of the overall scheme, despite raising some concerns about its design.

But the proposals have faced much heavier criticism from other stakeholders, including the International Council on Monuments and Sites UK (Icomos-UK), which has called for the entire project to be put on hold.

In a response to Highways England's public consultation on the project last month, Icomos-UK’s chairman Peter Marsden described the project to reroute the A303 road into a 2.9km tunnel as “severely flawed” and warned it would damage the UK’s reputation for protecting cultural heritage.

He said: “Icomos-UK wishes to register a strong objection to these proposals in view of the substantial negative and irreversible impact we believe that the dual carriageways at both ends of the tunnel would have on the attributes of outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites.”

Marsden warned that the project would undermine the government’s commitments to maintain the site’s outstanding universal value.

He said that the tunnel was too short and the exposed sections of dual carriageway would “destroy the visual and physical links of the interconnected monuments”. He warned that the long-term stability of the tunnel – which has a life expectancy of around 100 years – could pose a further risk of damage to the landscape.

Marsden also argued that the road project would destroy large swathes of potential archaeological evidence, writing: “As even better innovative scientific techniques are likely to emerge in the next few decades, we cannot afford to sacrifice parts of this landscape.”

Marsden was highly critical of the consultation process, saying that it had been “driven by road/tunnel making” and not by an assumption that the archaeological site had to be protected.  

“We consider that a much wider range of options should have been considered in far more technical detail,” said Marsden, questioning why a southern route that fully bypassed the world heritage site had not been given more consideration.

He queried why Highways England had discounted concerns raised by the Unesco world heritage committee last year about the project, and said he was disappointed that the design process had been closed and had not “allowed any interaction with the wider professional and public cultural heritage sector in the UK”.  

Marsden continued: “It is essential that the whole project be reassessed and a wider range of routes and construction options explored.”

The project has also been met with disapproval by other members of the archaeological community. Blick Mead Archaeologists criticised Highways England for failing to conduct a full archaeological assessment of the area and said “there is almost no part of the World Heritage Site that can safely be re-developed”.

A joint statement given to Museums Journal by English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust said: "The heritage partners believe the scheme has the potential to protect and enhance the World Heritage Site if the necessary design details are included.

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reunite this severed ancient landscape, to give people the opportunity to tread pathways used by our ancestors, to visit and appreciate the monuments and see and hear wildlife without the intrusion of the traffic and noise from the road.

"We will continue to engage with Highways England and with international heritage advisors and others to help to achieve the right solution for the World Heritage Site.

"We are looking forward to hearing the recommendations of the Unesco World Heritage Centre and its heritage advisors Icomos International following their recent follow-up visit to the Stonehenge landscape."

"We will continue to maintain dialogue with these international heritage bodies as Highways England continues its work to develop and improve on the design of the A303 road scheme."

Highways England’s project manager for the scheme, David Bullock, said: “Highways England will carefully read and consider every piece of feedback from all interested parties.”


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Jonathan Gammond
Access , Wrexham County Borough Museum
04.05.2018, 22:22
I read a thought provoking letter in the Times or the Grauniad, written by a regular driver on the A303. He had noticed that the traffic was always quicker on foggy days because the monument was no longer visible. In effect, people are slowing down to enjoy the amazing spectacle that is Stonehenge. Of course, the idea of the average Joe/Jo admiring an ancient monument from the comfort of their car as part of their humdrum daily existence is the kind of access and engagement which could easily get out of hand. Make the beggars drive through tunnel and that will teach them - keep your eyes on the road - and if you want to engage with your heritage, you do so how we want, when we want and for an appropriate fee!