Round in (stone) circles? Stonehenge decision faces another legal challenge

29/08/2023
Chris Ames

Campaigners have launched a legal challenge to the Government’s renewed approval of the £2bn A303 Stonehenge tunnel scheme.

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) said it filed a claim with the High Court this week, following the decision of transport secretary Mark Harper last month to grant National Highways a new development consent order (DCO).

The campaign group argues that the Government's failure to subject the re-determination of the scheme to a full public re-examination 'was unfair and also a breach of human rights'.

In July 2021, SSWHS won a High Court victory quashing the DCO granted by then transport secretary Grant Shapps.

SSWHS said the new decision ‘flies in the face of’ opposition from UNESCO and the 2020 recommendation from the Government’s own independent planning inspectors that development consent should be refused.

It pointed out that UNESCO had asked the Government not to approve the scheme ahead of its World Heritage Committee meeting in September, adding that ministers had ‘rushed out the decision ahead of the Somerset and Frome by-election’.

Rowan Smith, of solicitors Leigh Day representing SSWHS, said: ‘Our client is shocked that the Government appears not to have learnt from its mistakes and has repeated the decision to grant development consent for the Stonehenge road scheme.

‘Again the decision appears to have been made on an unlawful basis. Our client will argue that the failure to reopen the public examination a second time round was unfair and also a breach of human rights. We hope the Court will grant our client permission for a full hearing.’

Leigh Day argued in its pre-action letter to the Government that granting of development consent was unlawful on the following grounds:

  • Given recent developments and key new evidence, it was procedurally unfair for the Secretary of State not to subject the re-determination to a full public re-examination.
  • It was irrational for the Secretary of State to give no weight to the risk that the scheme would result in Stonehenge having its World Heritage Status removed.
  • Mr Harper failed to consider diverting the road around the Stonehenge site, despite such an alternative having a far lower impact in heritage terms.
  • Mr Harper failed to properly assess the scheme’s climate change impact.

Derek Parody, National Highways project director for the A303 Stonehenge scheme, said: 'We are aware of the legal challenge and will follow the due legal process.

'In the meantime, we remain confident this scheme is the best solution for solving the traffic problems along this notoriously congested section of the A303 while preserving and enhancing the World Heritage Site, improving journeys, bringing much needed relief to local communities and boosting the economy in the South West.'

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