Stonehenge likely to be put on world heritage danger list over tunnel plan

<span>A lorry passes Stonehenge on the A303. The two-mile tunnel is intended to speed up journey times and remove the sight and sounds of traffic.</span><span>Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA</span>
A lorry passes Stonehenge on the A303. The two-mile tunnel is intended to speed up journey times and remove the sight and sounds of traffic.Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

Stonehenge is likely to be put on a list of world heritage sites that are in danger because of the plan to build a tunnel under the precious landscape.

Unesco officials have recommended adding the Wiltshire stone circle and the area around it to the list because of concerns that the tunnel would “compromise the integrity” of one of the Earth’s great prehistoric sites.

The Conservative government and National Highways have been keen to press ahead with the two-mile tunnel, which is intended to speed up journey times and remove the sight and sounds of traffic.

But a large number of organisations and individuals including archaeologists, environmentalists, historians, transport experts, countryside campaigners and druids say the scheme will wreak havoc at the site.

Next month the plan will be discussed by Unesco’s world heritage committee at a meeting in New Delhi, with its officials recommending member states add Stonehenge to the danger list.

They say: “The name Stonehenge applies to both the main henge and to the wider landscape and this has at times led to confusion. What needs to be protected is not just the henge but the overall landscape.

“The main henge is a highly visible and well-known monument and the proposed tunnel would improve its immediate setting, but this monument has to be considered in its context, surrounded by and inextricably linked to a large number of prehistoric features, which together form an ancient landscape.

“It is the entirety of the inscribed landscape that constitutes the Stonehenge component of the property, not just the main henge monument. This interrelated ensemble of sites is regarded as a designed ritual landscape, with barrows and other features deliberately sited to be mutually visible.”

They say the scheme would “sever some of those important connections and compromise the integrity of this prehistoric landscape” and argue that adding it to the list would mobilise international support.

John Adams, the chair of the Stonehenge Alliance, which is opposed to the tunnel scheme, said: “This is a damming verdict on National Highways’ plans. Whichever way you look at it, this scheme will be hugely damaging and should be scrapped.

“The money should be spent instead on improving public transport links to and around the south-west.”

The historian Tom Holland said: “The new government will have the perfect opportunity to reverse a road scheme that is not only ludicrously expensive, but risks huge damage to the country’s international reputation. We hope that whoever comes to power next week will seize it.”

An English Heritage spokesperson said: “Stonehenge’s world heritage site status is of utmost importance to us – and we’re naturally disappointed at this draft decision.

“After decades of debate, English Heritage believes that the current scheme is both the best and most realistic option and – crucially – one that will deliver a lasting, positive legacy for this world heritage site.”