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Architects welcome return of Stonehenge tunnel plans


Leading architects have welcomed the news the Government is again considering a road tunnel underneath Stonehenge

The original proposal, which was backed by a public inquiry in 2005, featured a 2.1km bored tunnel under the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire. But the scheme was dropped on cost grounds after unforeseen geological conditions saw the cost spiral up to £540million.

However, according to the AJ’s sister magazine NCE, the plan has been dusted off following a review of ways to reduce congestion on the A303 which runs close to the stones.

The resurrected proposals have emerged less than 12 months after the opening of Denton Corker Marshall’s (DCM) long-awaited visitor centre for the Neolithic landmark (AJ 17.12.13). The completion of the new facilities marked the climax of a 22 year-saga which featured three architectural competitions - the first in 1992 - numerous funding and planning setbacks, and years of negotiations.

English Heritage and the National Trust said they were working with the Department of Transport to identify a solution, potentially involving a 2.9km tunnel.

Stephen Quinlan, project director at DCM on the Stonehenge visitor centre scheme said: ‘It’s a great idea. I’d be pleasantly amazed [if it happened].

‘Our project took away one of the roads but English Heritage has always maintained hope that the A303 would be removed. The ability to admire the monument has always restricted by the A303 and it’s obvious that the only way the road would be approved was by building a tunnel.’

He added: ‘To be there very early morning when there is no traffic on the road it is a magical experience. So I say go ahead with it.’

Roddy Langmuir of Cullinan Studio, whose practice worked on numerous proposals for the site in the early 1990s, said: ‘A tunnel [would be] a fantastic move. If there is, at last, the political will to make it happen then brilliant.’

He added: ‘Having drawn many options with engineers for tunnels in this landscape, one of the key consequences often ignored is the impact of the cut for the tunnel portals in such a subtly rolling landscape. These need clean incised banks that minimise land-take instead of the usual naturally retained battered walls and wide-mouthed portals.

‘The engineering design needs to include an architectural appreciation of the landscape, and this historic landscape above all others.’

Ian Wilson, assistant director of operations at the National Trust, told NCE: ‘[We] have a long standing ambition to remove as much of the A303 road from the Stonehenge landscape as possible.

‘[Building] a tunnel under the landscape is the best way of improving the quality of this special place whilst at the same time significantly improving a major transport link for the South West.’

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: ‘We’re discussing a range of potential options for improving the A303/A30/A358 corridor with interested parties to understand their views, including consideration of the section of the A303 that passes Stonehenge.

‘No investment decisions have been made as this is work in progress and, when completed the study outcomes will inform the government’s 2014 Autumn Statement.’


John Pardey of John Pardey Architects
‘Like our planning system, we like to tie ourselves in knots in this country. It was 22 years ago when Ted Cullinan won the competition for a new visitor centre. But that was blocked by the Ministry of Defence. Four years later a tunnel was ruled out on cost grounds.
‘Another five years later Denton Corker Marshall (DCM) won the second competition on a different site, but this was tied to a new tunnel which was again dropped.

Like a new airport for London, it grinds on and on

‘Finally in 2010 DCM won it again and it gets built - but a mile and a half from the stones which now introduces Disneyesque carriages dragged by Land Rovers across the plain.
‘Like a new airport for London, it grinds on and on. What can’t we be decisive in this country like our forebears in the Victorian era?
‘In another 22 years the tunnel may be built and a new visitor centre planned…’

Paul Stevens of Paul Stevens Architecture
‘The congestion on this section of the A303 is a problem and the need for the continuation of the duel carriageway is very much a local issue as well as a national.
‘By building a tunnel the landscape setting would be radically improved but personally I would miss looking at the stones will I am stuck in traffic on the A303, as a compensation I might make more meetings on time.


Readers' comments (6)

  • Totally agree with you there John. Having spent in the region of 30 hours sat in traffic jams this summer going to and from the west country I believe something urgently need to be done. What is the cost of all the time wasted every single day of the summer with queues and queues of people sat doing nothing for hours.

    Its worked for Hindhead.,.

    Andy Ramus
    AR Design Studio

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  • The A303 is a bit like the A1 in that it's been subject to creeping 'motorwayisation' over the years, but with the dualling so fragmented that the bottlenecks just tend to move location, but if you're not stuck in a queue you're contributing to the traffic noise that's a part of the Stonehenge problem.
    And, if you live in London, you could take the M4 + M5 route to the Southwest (the way the long distance buses go).
    Roddy Langmuir makes a very good point about tunnel portal design, but I wonder if relocation of the road line could find suitable dips in the landscape that would ease this problem?

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  • Mark Elton

    I really don't understand why it wouldn't be easier to divert this section to a new dual-carriageway to the south, away from the stones. An enormous portal like the (admittedly successful) ones at Hindhead would still have a significant and arguably unacceptable visual impact on Stonehenge. Like Andy (hi), I waste a lot of time sitting in the queue at Stonehenge when travelling between London and Kernow and I agree that the queues will along shift to another spot until each single carriageway section is dualled all the way to the M5. I never find that the M4/M5 route is a competitive alternative in terms of time or fuel.

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  • Also spend many hours sat in traffic past Stonehenge on way to cornwall. It never ceases to amaze me how much worse it has got since the road was 'improved' for the new visiotrs centre.... I am not sure how anyone can justify that was money well spent. A tunnel or even a cut in road (half tunnel) to reduce noise on the site, to stop rubbernecking, and to creat a proper setting for the stones whilst minimising cost and ecological and environmental impact (without the need for fans/extractors and lighting etc) is something that really should be done.

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  • Richard Griffiths

    Am I alone in being profoundly dubious about the merits of a tunnel? I have visited Stonehenge three times in my life - once taken by my parents as a child, once taking my son a a child, and once in taking part in the competition won by Denton Corker Marshall. Yet I am thrilled every time I catch sight of Stonehenge on the horizon when passing on the A303 on my way to the south-west.

    The enjoyment of historic buildings depends on access - is not visual access for passing drivers also important? Quite apart from the visual impact, archaeological impact and gross expense of a tunnel? It is not as thought the experience for paying visitors is remotely conditioned by any intimate experience of the stones in their landscape, driven in by land train and circliing the stones in the presence of crowds of others?

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  • I agree with Richard - most of us will only ever visit the stones once or twice, but being able to see them from the road is part of our heritage. My first sight of them, from a bus, looming out of the plane early on a misty March morning, was breath taking, and has never been matched by summer visits surrounded by other visitors. I knew how the cave men felt on first seeing them!
    I know the road has to be improved, but please don't take away our view of the stones.

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