The UK Government has finally given the official green light to the much-discussed Stonehenge Tunnel and has released this video to show what the site will look like.
The tunnel will help to tackle congestion on the A303 (which connects the Southeast and Southwest of England) as well as relieving the World Heritage Site of the blight of heavy traffic.
The proposals were initially granted consent in 2020, but following a legal challenge and a High Court ruling against the decision-making process, the application has undergone a thorough redetermination process of more than 12 months before the announcement.
“The A303 Stonehenge scheme is part of the biggest investment in our road network for a generation, and I’m really pleased the project has been given the green light by the Secretary of State for Transport – a decision which will enable us to progress this transformational scheme and deliver the planned benefits,” says National Highways chief executive Nick Harris. “The decision follows a lot of work on a comprehensive year-long process to reassess our Development Consent Order, looking in detail at possible alternatives, also including cumulative carbon and heritage issues.
“It means we’re now a step closer to solving the longstanding issues of congestion and delays on the existing A303, improving journeys for all our customers and bringing much-need relief to local communities.
“The investment, along with other improvements along the A303, will help to boost the Southwest economy, improve journey reliability, remove the sight and sound of traffic from this very busy road and return one of our most important World Heritage Sites to something like its original setting.”
Details of the scheme
The A303 Stonehenge upgrade includes:
• Eight miles of free-flowing, high-quality dual carriageway between Amesbury and Berwick Down
• A tunnel at least two miles long underneath the World Heritage Site, closely following the existing A303 route, but a further 50 metres away from the Stonehenge monument, avoiding important archaeological sites, and avoiding intrusion on the view of the setting sun from the stones during the winter solstice
• A new bypass to the north of the village of Winterbourne Stoke
• Junctions with the A345 and A360 either side of the World Heritage Site
“It is a scheme objective to conserve and enhance the World Heritage Site and this is being achieved through close collaborative working with heritage groups, including English Heritage, National Trust, Historic England and the independent A303 Scientific Committee,” says Derek Parody, project director for the A303 Stonehenge scheme. “The scheme will not only sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the Stonehenge landscape, it will also have a beneficial effect, and extensive archaeological studies and assessments have been undertaken to provide evidence of the benefits that the scheme will deliver for the World Heritage Site.
“The decision represents a major milestone, not only for us as the project team but for all those who have supported this project over a number of years; our stakeholders, the heritage bodies, local and regional businesses and indeed local communities.
“We’re currently analysing the detailed changes within the Development Consent Order and assessing timescales but we anticipate being able to start preparatory work in 2024.”
What happens next?
There is now a six-week period in which parties can lodge an intention to legally challenge the decision, and in the meantime, National Highway will be renewing its plans to prepare for the scheme.
Last year the company awarded the Main Works contract to the MORE joint venture, comprising FCC Construcción, WeBuild and BeMo Tunnelling, to deliver the £1.25 billion tunnel and main construction work.
Costain and Mott MacDonald will be operating as the company’s Delivery Assurance Partner, providing technical and construction management expertise by helping mobilise the main works contractor, oversee construction, assist the discharge of consent requirements and assure the design.
The construction phase is scheduled to take five years to complete and ahead of the main work, Wessex Archaeology will carry out archaeological mitigation work, while Octavius (formerly Osborne Ltd) will undertake preliminary work, including the reconfiguration of local authority roads.
Archaeological fieldwork and preliminary work will start first, with the main five-year construction phase to follow that programme.
Rachael Webb, Wiltshire team leader for Natural England, adds: “We’ve worked with National Highways to get some really great outcomes for wildlife from the A303 Stonehenge scheme. The verges and embankments will make for a flower-rich, six-mile long, butterfly highway and large areas of species-rich chalk grassland will be created.”