Campaigners lose High Court challenge over Stonehenge tunnel plans renewal

Campaigners have lost a High Court challenge over renewed plans to build a road tunnel near Stonehenge.

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) challenged Transport Secretary Mark Harper’s backing of plans which include the two-mile tunnel, to overhaul eight miles of the A303.

The previous go-ahead for the National Highways’ project was quashed by the High Court in July 2021 amid concern about the environmental impact on the site.

But the Department for Transport (DfT) approved the tunnel, from Amesbury to Berwick Down in Wiltshire, for the second time, on July 14 last year.

In December, the campaigners brought a bid to the High Court in London to challenge the decision to reapprove the plans.

COURTS Stonehenge
(PA Graphics)

One part of the legal bid, over the DfT’s approach to an environmental impact assessment, will be determined at a later date.

In his 50-page ruling, Mr Justice Holgate said ministers had “rightly focused on the relevant policies” and that the campaigners’ evidence “provides no basis for undermining that conclusion”.

During the hearing last year, David Wolfe KC, for SSWHS, said the Government gave “unlawful consideration of alternatives” to the project, adding that campaigners believed National Highways had provided “fundamentally flawed” information over these that “failed to acknowledge the heritage harm” and was based on a “flawed analysis of likely traffic figures for the A303”.

However, James Strachan KC, for the DfT, said the Government concluded the project was “consistent with the UK’s obligations” under the world heritage convention and that it would work with advisory bodies to “minimise harm”.

Stonehenge road project
Campaigners made a second High Court bid to block the controversial road project (Lucy North/PA)

National Highways has said its plan for the tunnel will remove the sight and sound of traffic passing the site and cut journey times.

Then-transport secretary Grant Shapps first gave the green light to the project in November 2020, despite advice from Planning Inspectorate officials that it would cause “permanent, irreversible harm” to the area.

The SSWHS alliance successfully challenged his decision in the High Court.

After the ruling, David Bullock, National Highways’ project director for the A303 Stonehenge scheme, said: “We welcome the High Court’s decision and wait for conclusion of the legal proceedings.

“It is a positive step forward and would mean that at long last we can progress solving the issues of the A303 near Stonehenge.

“It represents decades of working with our stakeholders, heritage bodies and local communities to create the best possible solution.”

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