A series of questions by Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (Green Party) on the Government’s intentions concerning widening the A303 near Stonehenge has revealed some interesting, if disturbing, answers.
Most shocking is that Highways England is working on preliminary designs for a new A303 at Stonehenge before it has consulted the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS-UK). How it can be proceeding with considering options, however preliminary, before it has talked to ICOMOS-UK to establish the parameters of any new development in or around the World Heritage Site beggars belief. It appears that the UK is not taking its commitment to safeguard the World Heritage Site very seriously, despite what it says in response to other questions.
The other revealing response – or non-response – was that the Government avoided answering the question as to whether it planned to tunnel under the entire surface of the World Heritage Site. This would suggest that it is still aiming to build a shorter tunnel past Stonehenge, with the result that there would be major construction and damage to archaeology within the Site. This is despite some advice that the Government has received from ICOMOS-UK that:
“We appreciate the very real need to address the issue of the A303 and recognize that a tunnel could have beneficial impacts on parts of the World Heritage property. However, we are concerned that associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the World Heritage landscape that cannot be set aside however great the benefits of a tunnel.” (reported by BBC)
In contradiction to the above, the Government did reaffirm its commitment to Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention which states that the Government will do all it can to safeguard its World Heritage Sites. However, this is not a pick and mix responsibility allowing it to make improvements in one area to offset damage elsewhere, which appears to be the Government’s current approach.
Apart from these concerns, Government has said that consultation on options for the A303 at Stonehenge will take place in 2017 and should include a wide range of interested parties. It will also develop reliable cost estimates for longer tunnel options, so we hope these will now be on the table for debate and not dismissed beforehand. Funding is obviously an issue but, to date, Highways England has not sought funding for any A303 scheme at Stonehenge outside its own resources.
The full Parliamentary Questions and their answers can be read here.