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Stonehenge Tunnel Scheme DCO approval quashed by High Court

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

The Stonehenge tunnel scheme has once more been thrown into the limelight, as the decision by the Secretary of State for Transport to approve the Development Consent Order enabling it has been quashed by a High Court.

Attempts to do something about the A303 at Stonehenge have a long history, going back to at least the early 90s. The problem, from a highway perspective, is that the stretch of the A303 going past the stones is one of only a few stretches between London and the West Country that isn’t dual carriageway. This causes tailbacks and congestion particularly in the tourist season. Historic England have long wanted to remove the A303 from the landscape, with fears that fumes and vibrations are physically damaging the stones and that the sight and sound of traffic detracts from the visitor experience.

We spoke to DJB Partner Nigel Hewitson, who was involved in the previous tunnel scheme in the early noughties, to find out more:

Nigel Hewitson, Partner

“The problem is that diverting the A303 away from the stones is problematic to say the least. To the north is Salisbury Plain, which the army still use for exercises including firing live ordnance. So you can’t really divert to the north. To the south there are various protected landscapes that make diversion to the south all but impossible. It was therefore concluded in the late 90s/early noughties that the best solution was to put the existing route into a tunnel as it passes the stones. When I acted for English Heritage (as it then was) on the earlier tunnel scheme, which was the subject of a CPO public inquiry in 2004, the scheme was abandoned on cost grounds. The estimated cost had gone up from £330 million to £470 million. The irony is that the official estimated cost is now £1.7 billion (with others estimating it will cost as much as £2.5 billion).”

DJB Partner and property litigation specialist, Jonathan Warner Reed also commented:

Jonathan Warner-Reed, Partner

“Judicial review simply delays things. It does not mean that the scheme will not go ahead. The court is simply saying that the decision making process was flawed in some way. If those flaws are addressed and the decision taken to proceed then it makes the decision harder to challenge on judicial review grounds. The Judicial Review was successful partly on the ground that, in effect, alternatives to the tunnel were too quickly dismissed and not properly considered. However, I suspect the long and short of it is that no-one really thinks the alternatives will work, so it’s only delaying the inevitable.”

Highways England continue to state that the tunnel scheme "presents the best solution for tackling the longstanding bottleneck on this section of the A3030, returning the Stonehenge landscape to something like its original setting and helping to boost the south-west economy."

The saga continues and whether or not the scheme will go ahead remains to be seen.



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