Approval of Highway $2.2 billion tunnel near Stonehenge


For a second time, despite facing opposition from archaeologists and heritage groups for an extended period, the UK government has approved the construction of an underground highway in the vicinity of Stonehenge. The estimated cost of the project amounts to £1.7 billion ($2.2 billion), and is expected to break ground in 2024. The Government, through the formal granting of a Development Consent Order for the A303 Stonehenge scheme, has taken a decisive step towards alleviating congestion and revolutionizing journeys for the countless individuals utilizing the A303 between the south-east and south-west.


After getting permission in 2020, their plans went through a thorough review that lasted more than 12 months due to legal challenges and a High Court ruling that questioned how the decisions were made, leading up to the recent announcement. Despite the strong advice from its Planning Inspectorate not to proceed, the Government’s decision to move forward with the road scheme has left the Stonehenge Alliance appalled. The alliance has been campaigning against this scheme for many years. Furthermore, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has condemned the current form of the project and has even threatened to add Stonehenge to the World Heritage in Danger List if it is allowed to proceed.

controversial highway tunnel under stonehenge receives UK government's final green light
all images ©National Highways



Stonehenge Road Faces UNESCO’s Wrath: Government Approves Regardless


In September 2021, UNESCO expressed concerns about the A303 Stonehenge project due to its potential impact on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites. The Stonehenge complex is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and any development near or within its vicinity is subject to scrutiny by UNESCO to ensure the protection of its cultural and historical significance. In particular, UNESCO expressed concerns about the possible negative impacts of the A303 Stonehenge development on the landscape, archaeological features, and the overall integrity of the World Heritage Site.


Stonehenge Alliance’s statement on their website reads: ‘Despite the previous decision being quashed by the courts, in part due to a lack of proper consideration of alternatives, it appears the Government really doesn’t care about the damage this road will do. There still has been no proper consideration of alternative solutions, while the economic case for the road makes no sense at all. As we have argued, there should be a new examination of the scheme to look at this complex and critical issue. It is too important to be done by a few written submissions with no independent scrutiny of National Highways’ outlandish claims.’


Stonehenge Alliance President Tom Holland expresses his frustration with the government’s announcement: ‘Today, a supposedly Conservative government plans to blow upwards of £2 billion, at a time when the country’s finances are in a shocking state, on a monstrous white elephant of a road development that will permanently disfigure Britain’s most significant and sacred prehistoric landscape. The decision of Mark Harper to greenlight the building of a tunnel through a stretch of the World Heritage Site that surrounds Stonehenge is as inexplicable as it is disgraceful. Certainly, no-one can be in any doubt that the scheme will inflict “permanent, irreversible harm” on a landscape that is the supreme icon of British archaeology.’controversial highway tunnel under stonehenge receives UK government's final green light

a rendering depicts the planned highway tunnel near Stonehenge



UK Government’s Stand on Stonehenge Tunnel Benefits


However, the UK government remains steadfast in highlighting the benefits of this monumental development. The government emphasizes that extensive research, consultations, and careful planning have been conducted to ensure minimal impact on the cultural and historical significance of the Stonehenge site. They believe that the project’s benefits outweigh the concerns raised by opposition groups, and that it will ultimately contribute to the betterment of both local communities and the nation’s infrastructure as a whole. 


‘The A303 Stonehenge scheme is part of the biggest investment in our road network for a generation, and I’m really pleased the project has been given the green light by the Secretary of State for Transport – a decision which will enable us to progress this transformational scheme and deliver the planned benefits,’ said Chief Executive Officer Nick Harris. ‘The decision follows a lot of work on a comprehensive year-long process to reassess our Development Consent Order, looking in detail at possible alternatives, also including cumulative carbon and heritage issues.’


‘It means we’re now a step closer to solving the longstanding issues of congestion and delays on the existing A303, improving journeys for all our customers and bringing much-need relief to local communities,’ he continues.‘The investment, along with other improvements along the A303, will help to boost the South West economy, improve journey reliability, remove the sight and sound of traffic from this very busy road and return one of our most important World Heritage Sites to something like its original setting.’

controversial highway tunnel under stonehenge receives UK government's final green light
the construction includes a new 12.8km two-lane dual carriageway featuring a 3.2km tunnel

controversial highway tunnel under stonehenge receives UK government's final green light
the development aims to address congestion issues on the single carriageway segment of the arterial A303 route

controversial highway tunnel under stonehenge receives UK government's final green light
project team engaging with local communities at Stonehenge





project info:


company: Highways England