Stonehenge tunnel project blocked as campaigners win High Court battle
Campaigners are rejoicing after winning a High Court battle to block a road tunnel being built underneath the historic Stonehenge sight.
Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) challenged a decision by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps' decision to approve the controversial road project, which would have seen a two-mile tunnel erected as part of a £1.7 billion project to overhaul eight miles of the A303.
The go-ahead was given in November last year, despite advice from Planning Inspectorate officials that it would cause "permanent, irreversible harm" to the Unesco World Heritage Site in Wiltshire.
Mr Justice Holgate ruled on Friday that the decision was "unlawful" on two grounds - it means development of the project will be paused while the government considers its next steps.
The judge concluded that there was a "material error of law" in the decision-making process because there was no evidence of the impact on each individual asset at the historic site.
He also found that Mr Shapps failed to consider alternative schemes, in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and common law.
The judge said: "The relevant circumstances of the present case are wholly exceptional.
"In this case the relative merits of the alternative tunnel options compared to the western cutting and portals were an obviously material consideration which the (Transport Secretary) was required to assess.
"It was irrational not to do so. This was not merely a relevant consideration which the (Transport Secretary) could choose whether or not to take into account.
"I reach this conclusion for a number of reasons, the cumulative effect of which I judge to be overwhelming."
John Adams, SSWHS director and acting chair of the Stonehenge Alliance, said: "We could not be more pleased about the outcome of the legal challenge.
"The Stonehenge Alliance has campaigned from the start for a longer tunnel if a tunnel should be considered necessary.
Archaeologists discover new prehistoric circle near Stonehenge
"Ideally, such a tunnel would begin and end outside the WHS. But now that we are facing a climate emergency, it is all the more important that this ruling should be a wake-up call for the government.
"It should look again at its roads programme and take action to reduce road traffic and eliminate any need to build new and wider roads that threaten the environment as well as our cultural heritage."
Rowan Smith, a Leigh Day solicitor who represented the campaigners, said: "This is a huge victory, which means, for now, Stonehenge is safe.
"The judgment is a clear vindication of our client's tremendous efforts in campaigning to protect the World Heritage Site.
"The development consent for this damaging tunnel has been declared unlawful and is now quashed, and the government will have to go back to the drawing board before a new decision can be made.
"Meanwhile, one of the country's most cherished heritage assets cannot be harmed."
Arthur Pendragon, Druid Leader said Stonehenge is a sacred burial site.
He said both he and archaeologists agree that the human remains, that could be found during excavation, are best left in the ground and not disturbed by the construction of new roads.
Arthur Pendragon, Druid Leader:
A panel of expert inspectors recommended that development consent should be withheld because the project would substantially and permanently harm the integrity and authenticity of the site, which includes the stone circle and the wider archaeology-rich landscape.
In a report to Mr Shapps, the officials said permanent, irreversible harm, critical to the outstanding universal value of the site, or why it is internationally important, would occur, "affecting not only our own, but future generations".
The Stonehenge site, together with Avebury, was declared by Unesco to be a World Heritage Site of Outstanding Universal Value in 1986 on account of the size of the megaliths, the sophistication of their concentric plans and the complexes of Neolithic and Bronze Age sites and monuments.
The proposed tunnel is part of a £1.7 billion investment in the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down.
The road, which is a popular route for motorists travelling to and from the south west, is often severely congested on the single carriageway stretch near the stones.
Highways England says its plan for a two-mile tunnel will remove the sight and sound of traffic passing the site and cut journey times, but some environmentalists and archaeologists have voiced their opposition to the plan due to its potential impact on the area.
The project is classified as nationally significant, which means a development consent order is needed for it to go ahead.