Government unveils £2bn proposal for road tunnel near Stonehenge

English Heritage welcomes plan to submerge 1.8-mile section of road
Gary Noakes
English Heritage has heralded the £2bn plan for a tunnel on the A303 near Stonehenge as “the biggest single investment ever by government in this country’s heritage”.

The organisation’s chief executive Simon Thurley described the plan to encase the road that blights the ancient monument into a 1.8-mile tunnel as “truly a momentous decision”.

Details of the scheme, which will involve a twin bore tunnel, emerged as part of a £15bn package of road upgrades. However, the Department for Transport said it cannot give a timescale for the works or the duration at this stage.

“There is no precise date, because of the importance of the design and planning inquiry," said a spokeswoman for the department. "The start of works is expected during this roads period – by 2020.”

Campaigners including English Heritage have fought for 30 years to get the section of road, which runs to the south of the ancient monument, removed. A proposal seven years ago was cancelled on cost grounds and English Heritage is mindful that the start of works may be affected by next year’s general election.

"We have been trying to find a solution for the A303 improvements since 1986 when Stonehenge became a world heritage site, recognition that it is one of the best known and most important prehistoric landscapes in the world,” said Thurley.

A smaller victory was won last year when the A344, which ran to the east, was grassed over.

Enclosing the road would open up the two-thirds of the site that cannot be reached without crossing the A303.

An English Heritage spokeswoman said that no closures of other roads would be needed once the A303 project was completed. She added that the tunnelling would not affect how Stonehenge was accessed by road.

However, some archaeology and conservation groups, including the Council for British Archaeology, have expressed concern that the proposed tunnel is not long enough and could have an adverse impact on the surrounding landscape and archaeology. They are calling for the tunnel's length to be extended so that its entrance and exit fall outside the world heritage site.

"We assessed four different options with different length tunnels," said the English Heritage spokeswoman. "This was the one we recommended and this is the one that has been selected."

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