Stonehenge road tunnel; solution or further disruption?

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England.
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England. Image: garethwiscombe Wikimedia CC BY SA 2.0

On November 12th, the construction of a road tunnel under Stonehenge has been approved. The construction plans have sparked a lot of controversy between heritage professionals and other parties.

In the current situation, the A303 highway runs next to Stonehenge. In the newly approved plans (first announced in 2014), it will instead continue as a tunnel under the site. The tunnel would be further away from the stones but would also be useful for traffic in the area. On the official Stonehenge Twitter account, the plans are announced as a way of ‘reconnecting Stonehenge to the prehistoric landscape’.

English Heritage, the charity that manages Stonehenge and over 400 other historic properties in England, is one of multiple big heritage institutions in favor of the tunnel. However, other parties feared that the construction would damage Stonehenge and have spoken out against these plans. Notably, a UNESCO committee urged the UK government not to go through with the plans. The independent scientific committee working on the plans has also warned that half a million artifacts could be lost in the construction, according to The Guardian. The article doesn’t say which artifacts these are, but it’s important to mention that Stonehenge has more archeological finds than just the circle of stones. The tunnel would actually be further away from the stones than the current road. However, it would cut through the surrounding landscape and could harm the smaller and less visible archeological finds there.

The UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, agreed that the construction could be harmful. According to him, the benefits would be greater than the potential harm, so he still approved the plans. Now, the Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site campaign group has hired a law firm to investigate if this decision was legal. Shapps has been asked to respond before December 10th, and any judicial review will have to be started on the 24th, according to the Guardian. In the meantime, a protest organised by the SSWHS group on December 5th has led to Stonehenge being closed for the day.

Whether building the tunnel is legal or not, this issue raises many questions about preserving heritage sites. Is infrastructure more important than heritage? Is it enough to protect the large and visible parts of heritage sites, or should every part of them be preserved?

Sources: The Guardian, Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site, official Stonehenge Twitter, AP News

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