A controversial scheme to tunnel a two-mile section of the heavily-congested A303 near Stonehenge has been approved by the Transport Secretary.
The busy A303 runs within a few hundred metres of the ancient monument. Supporters of the scheme say the two-mile tunnel would relieve congestion and return the landscape to a more natural setting, while detractors claim historic artefacts could be destroyed.
The £1.7 billion A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down upgrade includes:
- Eight miles of free-flowing, high-quality dual carriageway
- 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
Highways England, Natural England, and the National Trust, which manages the World Heritage Site, were both in favour of the scheme.
Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: "The A303 Stonehenge tunnel project is part of the biggest investment in our road network for a generation and we welcome the Secretary of State’s decision.
"This transformational scheme will return the Stonehenge landscape towards its original setting and will improve journey times for everyone who travels to and from the south west."
The news was also welcomed by Wiltshire Council. Bridget Wayman, Wiltshire Council Cabinet Member for Highways, said: "We’re delighted that, after many years of planning and lobbying by our dedicated officers and members, consent has been granted for the A303 Stonehenge project.
"It represents a significant investment in Wiltshire that will boost the south-west economy, unlocking jobs and investment throughout the entire region. We now can look forward to construction beginning, and unlocking all the benefits the scheme will bring to Wiltshire and the south west."
And from the business community, David Tucker, transport chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "This is very welcome news. Upgrading the single carriageway sections of the A303 is key to supporting the south-west economy, particularly as the only alternative route via the M4 and M5 into the region is already heavily used.
"Investment in improving key links on the country’s A roads is a positive and vital way to support our local regional economies."