Stonehenge Tunnel case to be heard in High Court

18/02/2021
Dominic Browne

Campaigners against the £2bn Stonehenge Tunnel scheme have secured a court hearing in their judicial review challenge.

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) argues the decision to allow a new A303 dual carriageway and tunnel 'would cause significant harm to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS)'.

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It also alleges that an alternative plan for the road - 'a longer tunnel that would cause less harm' - was unlawfully discarded and not considered by Mr Shapps.

A High Court judge has decided that legal arguments should be dealt with at a 'rolled up' hearing to decide both whether the claim is arguable and, if so, whether it succeeds.

A preliminary hearing will take place next week to set the timetable for the process. SSWHS said it will proceed to the full hearing at the High Court 'in a matter of months'.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps decided to approve the eight-mile road project, with a two-mile tunnel past Stonehenge, late last year despite a recommendation from the Planning Inspectorate that it should be refused.

The examining authority (ExA) report states: 'The ExA concludes that the totality of the adverse impacts of the Proposed Development would strongly outweigh its overall benefits' and so the 'presumption in favour of the grant of development consent cannot therefore be sustained'.

Historian and Stonehenge Alliance president, Tom Holland, said: 'We have always believed that the Government’s intention to build a great gash of concrete and tarmac through the World Heritage Site is a dereliction of its responsibilities, and we are delighted that there will now be the opportunity to test this conviction in a court of law. We urge Grant Shapps to review his decision, and act to conserve rather than vandalise this most precious of prehistoric landscapes.'

Actin on behalf of SSWHS, Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said: 'There is clearly a huge level of public outrage against, what is in effect, an existential threat to one of the most treasured symbols of British history. However, this legal case must proceed on points of procedural error.

[This] decision means that our client’s case and the Government’s decision-making process will now be fully scrutinised by the courts.'

The Stonehenge site was declared by the World Heritage Committee (WHC) to be of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) in 1986.

The Department for Transport has been approached for comment.

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