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International heritage group “strongly objects” to Stonehenge tunnel


The International Council on Monuments and Sites UK (ICOMOS-UK) has described the plans for the A303 Stonehenge tunnel as “severely flawed” and called for the project to be put on hold and re-assessed.

The organisation made the claims in its response to the public consultation process for Highways England’s preferred route for the 2.9km tunnel and dual carriageway on the A303 in Wiltshire which closed this week.

In addition to the archaeological issues related to the World Heritage Site status, ICOMOS-UK has also raised concerns about the 100 year design life of the tunnel and cuttings and questioned the geotechnical stability beyond this and how it could impact on the archaeology.

In a letter to Highways England, ICOMOS-UK chairman Peter Marsden 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 (OUV) of the World Heritage Site (WHS) of Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites.

“We consider that to suggest that this negative impact on OUV of the dual carriageways can be mitigated by benefits brought by the tunnel to the centre of the WHS, is to fundamentally misunderstand the government commitments to sustain the OUV of the WHS, including its integrity and authenticity, made by the UK state party to the World Heritage Convention at the time of inscription of the property on the World Heritage List.

“In our view, the overall preferred route project is severely flawed and its impacts cannot be readily mitigated; it is essential that the whole project be re-assessed and a wider range of routes and construction options explored before a public consultation by the government is recommended.

“We consider that the nation has a responsibility to future generations to safeguard our precious world heritage. Stonehenge, as a total landscape linked to the development of the world’s human civilisation over thousands of years, should not be sacrificed to an unsatisfactory project that will deprive the national and international community of an almost intact sacred landscape that the government has committed itself to pass on to future generations.

“In conclusion, we urge Highways England to put on hold the development of this A303 project to allow a wider range of options to be considered in line with the recommendations of the Unesco World Heritage Committee.

“We would also urge Highways England to work closely with the World Heritage Centre in conjunction with the Department of State responsible for World Heritage in the UK to find a long term, acceptable and reasoned solution that protects the integrity of the Stonehenge component of the WHS as a sacred place of global importance not just for its main henge monument but for the totality of its interconnected pre-historic landscape.”

In addition, ICOMOS-UK also criticised the closed design process, which it believes should have involved consultation with conservation bodies before taking the project to public consultation.

Key ICOMOS-UK objections

  • ICOMOS-UK acknowledges that there has long been a need to do something to address the impact of the major A303 road through the WHS but does not accept the idea that the proposed tunnel is a once in a lifetime opportunity to solve the road problems that has to be taken even if the length of the tunnel means there would be irreversible damage to the WHS.
  • The 2.9km tunnel is considered too short as it leaves 2.2km of dual carriageway in cuttings at either end, which would destroy large swathes of potential archaeological evidence.
  • Recent archaeological surveys have profoundly changed our understanding of this sacred landscape and as even better innovative scientific techniques are likely to emerge in the next few decades, we cannot afford to sacrifice parts of this landscape and the embedded knowledge within it.
  • The full impact of the proposed project on the overall pre-historic archaeological landscape within the boundaries of the WHS has not been fully acknowledged. There has been too much focus on the visual impact of the tunnel portals rather on the impacts of dual carriageways and substantial cuttings.
  • Concerns have also been raised over the design life of the tunnel at 100 years and ICOMOS-UK believes that the consultations does not address the long term stability of the tunnel will be maintained without damage to the landscape above and to the sides. These concerns also extend to the geotechnical stability of the cuttings beyond the design life of the structure.

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