Kate Byng-Hall reports as plans for a traffic tunnel beneath Stonehenge are faced with backlash.
Photo by Renan Kamikoga
The government has announced that a £1.7 billion plan to expand the stretch of the A303 that runs adjacent to Stonehenge will go ahead. The plan will see the heavily-congested road widened into a dual carriageway through a tunnel which will run underneath the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wiltshire.
The prospect of such a project has been discussed for years due to the severe bottle-necking which frequently occurs on the road next to the site, but it has also faced significant backlash from druids, environmental campaigners and archaeologists who have said that the expansion may affect the landmark.
A Wondrous Sight
Stonehenge is widely considered to be one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in the world. It is comprised of 93 stones of varying sizes, some lying horizontally, others positioned vertically, while some are balanced on top of others (in technical terms they are ‘lintelled’). The arrangement creates the iconic and striking image that we’re all familiar with.
The monument was first erected roughly 5000 years ago, and is estimated to have been completed into the formation we know today in around 2500 B.C. during the Neolithic period. The sheer size of the monument is what makes it so unique, especially considering that we can never know exactly how the stones, the heaviest of which weighs in at 30 tons, were positioned in the way they are, or how they were transported to their current location, as some of them were confirmed last year to have originated from Wales.
The landmark, as well as the surrounding area of Avebury which contains multiple other historically-significant marvels, was one of the first sites in the UK to be inscribed into UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 because it is widely regarded as the most sophisticated and intact example of a prehistoric lintelled stone circle in the world.
Traffic Comes First
However, the landmark has caused inconvenience for transport in the area for decades, as the A303 runs just a couple of hundred metres from the stone circle, and there has been reluctance to expand it due to concerns that it may make the stones unstable. It is only this year that the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has confirmed the road will finally be widened into an expressway, with eight miles of dual carriageway being added in the area.
However, after extensive backlash from campaigners and experts, the Stonehenge Alliance of protestors is launching a legal challenge to the decision. The campaign ‘Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site' is currently running an appeal to raise money to fund a judicial review of the plan. Vincent Gaffney, University of Bradford professor and co-principal investigator of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape project, has said the plan would be an “act of monstrous vandalism” to one of the country’s greatest monuments.
“The Stonehenge Tunnel is not just a tunnel. The government’s plans involve road-building on a massive scale through Europe’s most archaeologically significant prehistoric landscape: the desecration of Britain’s most internationally celebrated World Heritage Site.” – Tom Holland, historian
UNESCO itself has released a statement judging that the road’s expansion would adversely affect the “Outstanding Universal Value” of the site, in which a variety of archaeological monuments are also scattered across the surrounding fields with minimal impact from the A303.
The Council for British Archaeology has said that, “Stonehenge should be seen not as a disembodied object but as a structure […] with architectural attributes, and a critical element in a landscape of complex ritual sites”, suggesting that all “Decisions should flow from these insights.” The danger is that the government is employing decision-making strategies based solely on efficiency and practicality, rather than looking at the bigger picture and considering how actions in the present can have catastrophic effects on the most important elements of this country’s past.
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