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Funding pledged for Stonehenge tunnel

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A tunnel under Stonehenge has been included in a £2billion programme of work to improve roads in the South-west of England

The 2.9 km tunnel under the World Heritage Site is one of the core projects unveiled by Highways England yesterday as part of its six-year pipeline of work to upgrade and increase capacity on the region’s roads.  

Plans for a tunnel beneath the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire date back to 2005, but the scheme was dropped on cost grounds after unforeseen geological conditions saw the cost spiral up to £54 million.

According to the AJ’s sister title Construction News, the government’s wider road-building plans also include major improvements to the M5 near Bridgwater, which will serve as a crucial route during the proposed construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, set to begin in 2017.

The work was outlined by the government-owned company at a suppliers’ event in Yeovil on Tuesday (13 October).

South-west works to start by 2021:

  • A new junction on the M49 at Avonmouth
  • Improvements to the M5 J23 at Bridgwater
  • An upgrade to an 14 km section of single carriageway on the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross roundabouts
  • Development of a scheme on the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down route that passes Stonehenge, including building a tunnel
  • Dualling the A303 between Sparkford and IIchester
  • Dualling the A358 from the M5 at Taunton to A303 at Southfields
  • Investigations into the benefits of connecting the two dual carriageway sections of the A417 near Birdlip, Gloucestershire


The five-year plan will triple spending on the network and will feature 112 major road improvement projects.

Last month, Highways England unveiled plans for £3.8bn-worth of new road projects across the Midlands and the East of England.

Roads minister Andrew Jones said: ‘As part of our long-term economic plan, we are making the biggest investment in roads in a generation.

‘The £2bn investment in the South-west of England will significantly improve journeys and help create jobs. We’re upgrading key roads like the A303 and A30 and building a new junction on the M49 near Bristol.

‘We’re making the biggest investment in roads in a generation’

‘This will create a new strategic corridor to the South-west and complete the dual carriageway into Cornwall so that hardworking families can have better access to jobs, shops and leisure facilities.’

Previous story (AJ 23.12.14)

Stonehenge tunnel threatened by archaeological discovery

Plans for a road tunnel under Stonehenge could once again be halted after the discovery of a 6000-year-old encampment nearby

Part of £2billion plans to reduce two-hour traffic queues by turning the A303 into a dual carriageway, the bored tunnel was to extend for 2.9km under the World Heritage Site.

But archaeologist David Jacques, from the University of Buckingham, announced this week that artefacts ‘capable of changing the understanding of British history’ have been discovered in Blick Mead, 1.5 miles from Stonehenge and 300m from a tunnel entry-point.

Construction of the tunnel, which is being looked at as a viable option to reduce congestion on the nearby A303, could destroy the archaeological finds.

Jacques said: ‘This site is important enough to call a halt to plans. It represents the first story of Britain.

‘The big problem is what the tunnel will do to the water table – it is highly likely all the organic artefacts will be degraded or destroyed.

‘A better solution could be to put a couple of flyovers at Countess Roundabout, which would make a huge difference to congestion at a fraction of the cost.’

Roddy Langmuir of Cullinan Studio, which worked on numerous proposals for the visitor centre in the early 1990s, said: ‘If they’ve really found an important discovery and the tunnel is in the planning stage I can’t see any way it would be allowed to go through.’

But plans for the tunnel have not yet been cancelled. A Department for Transport spokesman told the BBC ‘as with any road scheme, we will consult with interested parties before any building begins on the A303.

‘English Heritage and National Trust are supportive of our plans, and we will ensure sites of cultural or historical significance are safeguarded as we progress with the upgrade.’

Plans for a tunnel at the site date back to 2005, but the scheme was dropped on cost grounds after unforeseen geological conditions saw the cost spiral up to £54 million.

Further comments

Stephen Quinlan, managing partner, Denton Corker Marshall  

‘It will be incredibly controlled – the National Trust does not cut corners with these things.

‘Because the tunnel is relatively far underground it’s only where it reaches the surface where things get sensitive.

‘It’s a matter of protecting what needs protecting and avoiding what needs avoiding. I can’t believe for a minute they’re going to destroy an archaeological site.’

Andy Rhind-Tutt, chairman of the Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust

‘Congestion will not be solved by a tunnel with one exit lane – the current tailback can extend five miles.

‘Any tunnel would need to be motorway standard, and even with four lanes there would still be tailbacks.

‘It would effectively become a dam and kilometres of chalk would have to be extracted. Air conditioning, water pumps, lighting and maintenance costs would be colossal.’

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Readers' comments (2)

  • The Stonehenge A303/Tunnel proposal is extremely controversial due to the damage it would if inserted into the World Heritage Site landscape. UNESCO and its advisor, ICOMOS-UK have already written to Government expressing their concerns. We have petitions for those at home and abroad with in excess of 18,000 signatures. Please could you balance your report by mentioning this and perhaps link to our petition which explains our concerns. A good summary of the situation can be found here http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2670978/stonehenge_world_heritage_site_at_risk_from_a303_tunnel_plans.html. Thanks. Kate Freeman savestonehenge@gmail.com

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  • This is a bad choice for the South West, apart from the huge cost; the environmental implications of tunnelling through the largest chalk aquifer in the UK is simply mad! It will create a huge underground dam with no real understanding of the consequences for water distribution into the surrounding Avon and Till/Wylye river systems . The disposal of the spoil will be a major headache and the chalk is structurally weak which could cause subsidence that would destroy the WHS and the Tunnel! There is a perfectly good alternative option at a vastly cheaper price that would avoid the World Heritage site completely. The present plan intrudes into the site and could result in Stonehenge losing its Heritage tag! UNESCO had major reservations when this came forward last time. The Fire Brigade were worried about the safety standards of the build. This is a classic example of pig-headed planning and a lack of lateral thinking. The realignment of the A303 to turn it into a Salisbury By Pass could solve 5 major strategic issues facing South Wiltshire and the South West. I welcome the allocation of money but not on this ridicules vanity project when it can be done for much less with greater gain for all involved.

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