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Stonehenge tunnel threatened by archaeological discovery

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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 0million.

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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