Recently, it was International Day for Monuments and Sites, a good time to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have iconic monuments such as Stonehenge. Yet the World Heritage Site remains under threat from the Government’s road building programme and its damaging short tunnel. While the tunnel would not damage the stones directly, it would cause massive destruction within the World Heritage landscape.
Highways England, the Government body charged with building the new road, held a so-called ’information event’ last February. No scheme proposals were published, only its intention to widen the A303 at Stonehenge with building work starting in April 2020. Information on the project’s website is scant but Highways England has told us that they are looking at options and a report is due later this month. Meanwhile we need to understand the project programme lying ahead.
What are the processes and time-scales?
The planning processes for major infrastructure schemes have radically changed in recent years. There is a reasonably long lead time prior to the submission of an application followed by a short public examination where it will be at the Examining Authority’s (usually a panel of Inspectors) discretion to seek answers to objectors’ questions. Currently we are at the ‘Pre-application’ stage of the process.
Highways England says it will consult on the various options in early 2017. It then chooses its preferred option (a short tunnel according to ministerial assurances last month, unless we can convince people otherwise) working it up into more detail before holding a consultation specifically on this option. After all this it can then submit an application to the Planning Inspectorate. This initial process is likely to take around 18 months. It could take longer though, because of the complexity of the scheme.
Once the application is submitted, the Planning Inspectorate has 28 days to approve it. Once approved and when all the documents supporting the application are published, the public have a minimum of 28 days to register their comments. At the end of the registration period, four weeks’ notice is given of the Preliminary Meeting where the Examination process and timetable is explained.
The day after the Preliminary Meeting marks the start of the Examination in Public which is limited to 6 months. The Examining Authority then has 3 months to produce its report and the Secretary of State has 3 months in which to make a decision. There is then a 6 week period during which objectors may ask, if appropriate, for the decision to be judicially reviewed.
Therefore, to meet its 2020 deadline Highways England will need to submit an application in mid 2018. The problem for objectors is that there won’t be a detailed plan until then. But once the formal planning process starts, the public will have precious little time to prepare a case and limited or no resources to scrutinise what are often very large and complex documents.
If you do not want to see the Stonehenge World Heritage Site permanently damaged please take the following actions:
Sign our petition here
Write to the National Trust who are supporting the damaging short tunnel
Write to UNESCO urging them to stand firm in demanding protection of the whole of the World Heritage Site
For more information on the planning process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects or how to campaign in general see guidance on Campaign for Better Transport’s website.