Snow tries to bury resurrected A303 scheme

Chris Ames

Campaigners have returned to the High Court after ministers again overruled their own planning inspectors to back National Highways' controversial plans to build a tunnel for the A303 at Stonehenge.

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) said its legal action, which begins on Tuesday (12 December) and is set to last three days is ‘the only thing stopping the bulldozers from entering this 5,000-year-old landscape’.

Historian and television presenter Dan Snow, British, said: ‘It’s astonishing that the Government is persisting with such a damaging scheme when there’s so much opposition. Even UNESCO opposes it. They’ve got to come up with something better.

‘Simply cutting right through one of the most important archaeological sites on planet earth shows little respect for humanity or our heritage. There are plenty of other solutions that could reduce traffic past Stonehenge.’

The first report from the Planning Inspectorate, in January 2020 recommended that National Highways’ application for development consent should be refused but in November 2020 transport secretary Grant Shapps approved the scheme.

In July 2021, the High Court quashed the Development Consent Order but two years later current transport secretary Mark Harper granted a new order, leading to SSWHS launching a new legal challenge.

SSWHS said it raised the £80,000 needed to bring its latest action in just over four months.

It is arguing that the new grant of development consent was unlawful on the following grounds because, among other reasons, it was procedurally unfair for Mr Harper not to subject his ‘re-determination’ to a full public re-examination.

Solicitor Rowan Smith of Leigh Day said: ‘Despite this road development being so controversial, and despite important new matters which required proper scrutiny, the secretary of state ignored calls for a fresh public examination.

‘Our clients consider that was unfair and potentially a breach of human rights. Also, no regard whatsoever was given to the risk that Stonehenge would lose its world heritage status if plans were approved, which our clients say was plainly irrational.’

David Bullock, A303 Stonehenge project director for National Highways, said: 'We acknowledge there is a clear process for any legal challenge, we are taking part in that legal process and we remain confident this scheme is the best solution for tackling a long-standing traffic bottleneck, improving journeys, bringing much needed relief to local communities and boosting the economy in the south-west, while conserving and enhancing the World Heritage Site.

'In the meantime, and following the granting of the scheme’s Development Consent Order, we are continuing to plan and make preparations for starting preliminary work and archaeology fieldwork on site in 2024.'

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