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Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust on Proposed A303 Stonehenge Tunnel

  • The proposed tunnel would remove the majority of the intrusive surface A303 from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, opening up more of this extraordinary ancient landscape to the public
  • The tunnel’s eastern portal would allow for the reinstatement of the Stonehenge Avenue – the A303 currently cuts across this important historic feature
  • But the location of the tunnel’s western portal needs significant improvement

The proposed A303 tunnel of at least 2.9km within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site would remove the majority – circa 3km – of the existing damaging road and its traffic from the World Heritage Site, finally reuniting the north and south sides of this extraordinary ancient landscape and allowing people to enjoy and understand it better, said Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust today (Wednesday 8 February 2017), as part of their response to the initial route options put forward for public consultation by Highways England.

It would also allow for the reinstatement of the line of the Stonehenge Avenue, an ancient processional route to the stones. This is the first time that a Government scheme to improve the A303 within the Stonehenge landscape has recognised the importance of the Avenue.

However the Government’s current proposals for the tunnel’s western portal are a cause for concern and need significant improvement, warned Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust. This is due to the portal’s current proximity to the Normanton Down barrow group, an important group of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ceremonial and funerary monuments.

The heritage organisations believe that these concerns could be resolved with careful and sensitive revision to the positioning and design of the western portal. We will work with Highways England to find an alignment and design for the western portal that is appropriate for this internationally-important place and protects its Outstanding Universal Value.

A line of cars pass Stonehenge travelling along the A303
Passing traffic travelling along the A303 © Historic England DP081697

The three key points in our joint response to the A303 Stonehenge public consultation on route options

1. The tunnel would remove the majority of the damaging and intrusive surface A303 from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, enabling people to explore it better

The Stonehenge World Heritage Site is famous throughout the world and is one of the most important prehistoric landscapes in Europe.

Today this landscape is split in two by the A303 with tens of thousands of vehicles thundering past Stonehenge every day. The heavy traffic and constant noise from the road compromises our enjoyment and understanding of the monument and the road cuts the stones off from much of the surrounding ancient landscape and many other prehistoric monuments.

Removing the A303 with a twin-bored tunnel of at least 2.9km would enable the public to walk from the northern part of the World Heritage Site and explore the many monuments and extensive ancient landscape lying to the south of the A303.

2. The tunnel's eastern portal would allow for the reinstatement of the line of the Stonehenge Avenue

A major improvement on the present surface road is that the proposed location of the tunnel's eastern portal would allow the line of the Stonehenge Avenue, an ancient processional route leading to the Stonehenge monument to be reinstated where it is currently severed by the busy A303.

This is the first time that a Government scheme to improve the A303 within the Stonehenge landscape has recognised the importance of the Avenue - it will be a great improvement on previous road improvement schemes.

While this is a big step forward, it is critical that the infrastructre is designed and located sensitively if this improvement is to be properly realised.

3. The proposed western portal for the tunnel needs significant improvement

The western portal location as shown in the consultation documents needs significant improvement, due to its proximity to and impact on the Normanton Down barrow group - one of the key groups of ceremonial and funerary monuments for which the World Heritage Site is designated.

As part of the formal response to the consultation, Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust will provide detailed feedback to Highways England to ensure the western portal road alignment, as well as its design, is right for this internationally-important place.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “The proposed A303 tunnel offers the best opportunity to resolve the traffic problems at Stonehenge and to reverse the environmental damage the present road causes to the World Heritage Site. The proposals could offer enormous gains, by reuniting this extraordinary landscape. While the design and position of the western portal needs improvement, we welcome Highways England’s willingness to listen to this. We will provide constructive advice on how this can be achieved.”

Kate Mavor, Chief Executive of English Heritage said: “This proposal is a big step in the right direction. We have already seen the benefits of removing the old visitor facilities and grassing over the A344. The proposed tunnel could complete that transformation and finally do justice to our greatest prehistoric monument, dramatically improving its setting and reconnecting it with the wider landscape. We do have concerns about particular aspects of the proposals which we will share with Highways England and we will continue to look carefully at the plans as they evolve."

Helen Ghosh, Director-General of the National Trust said: “We are encouraged by the proposals put forward by Highways England for consultation but it is very clear that there’s still more to do. The current A303 with its busy, noisy traffic ruins the setting of many prehistoric monuments in this world-renowned place. It makes it hard for people to explore a large part of the wider prehistoric landscape. A well located and designed tunnel would reunite the landscape, giving everyone better access and enriching their experience, as well as enabling nature to flourish. We, along with Historic England and English Heritage, will continue to work with Highways England as they develop and improve the scheme, and encourage others to add their views to the consultation.”

Man standing in front of the stones at Stonehenge with traffic in the background
View of the passing traffic through the stones © Historic England

UNESCO/ICOMOS second visit to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site

On the invitation of the Government, a delegation from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and their heritage advisors ICOMOS, re-visited the Stonehenge World Heritage Site last week. This was their second visit to the Stonehenge landscape, following an initial mission in 2015 and constructive advice on a potential scheme. This return visit gives them the opportunity to consider the route options during the public consultation period and to further advise on and shape the emerging scheme.

Highways England's public consultation

Consultation for the A303 Stonehenge scheme launched on 12 January and runs until 5 March. A number of public information events are being held for people to give their feedback, and further information is available online.

Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust will be submitting their full responses to this first round of consultation before it closes on 5 March. There will be another round of consultation later in 2017 on Highways England’s more detailed proposed solution before they submit their Development Consent Order application to the Planning Inspectorate in 2018.

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