The World Heritage Site extends to beyond the horizons around the famous stones themselves, totalling about 6,500 acres, about 10 square miles.
The whole Stonehenge landscape is of Outstanding Universal Value, that is to say, it is of immense significance for all people for all time, a ‘landscape without parallel’.
Many of the deliberately constructed prehistoric elements might have been intended to be inter-visible to emphasise, and use, the topography.
Neolithic long barrows in the western part of the WHS are grouped around the head of a dry valley. The enigmatic Wilsford Shaft, which appears to have been used well into the Bronze Age and later, is nearby. The gash at the western end goes through an area of ancient field systems and linear ditches dating at least to the Middle Bronze Age.
Where the A303 crosses the WHS it is about 5.4km across. The Government proposes to dual the A303 including a short 3.3km tunnel (3km deep bored tunnel, 0.3km cut and cover) where it passes the Stones. It would result in at least 1.5km of above-ground road engineering within the WHS.
The major highway components are out of all proportion to the monuments in the landscape. They would include:
- A stone lined trench 10 to 11 meters deep.
- The area of the cutting would fit 8 football pitches.
- A flyover, two pairs of concrete tunnel portals and slip roads within the WHS.
- Major junctions to motorway standard constructed on the WHS boundaries at each end.
The panel of five specialist planning inspectors recommended against the scheme. They said the scheme would introduce “a greater physical change to the Stonehenge landscape than has occurred in its 6,000 years as a place of widely acknowledged human significance.”
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has told the UK Government that the WHS would be placed on World Heritage in Danger list if the scheme goes ahead and the site could thus lose its world heritage status. It would cause irreparable damage to the WHS in breach of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and ignores UNESCO’s firm advice in 2018, and 2019, as well as its Advisory Mission in 2022.
If the road scheme is implemented, the World Heritage Committee said it “would have deleterious impacts on the OUV [Outstanding Universal Value] of the property including its integrity, warranting inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
Loss of World Heritage status
Deletion from the List of World Heritage Sites would include Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites (including SilburybHill and West Kennett Long Barrow).
Only three UNESCO properties have ever had their world heritage status deleted:
- Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany (delisted in 2009)
- Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman (delisted in 2007)
- Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City (delisted in 2021)
It would be an international embarrassment and dishonour if the UK were to lose a second WHS badge under this government.
Despite UNESCO’s firm stand against the scheme, the future of the WHS remains uncertain. Contracts have been let and construction work is expected to start in February 2024 unless the legal challenge is successful.
- Planning Inspectors report summary: ‘Reasons for recommending refusal’
- UNESCO, Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
- UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee decision, Riyadh 2023: see paragraph 9, p90
- Leigh Day, August 2023: Legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Transport
- Stonehenge Alliance: Images, maps and plans of A303 Stonehenge scheme
- Stonehenge Alliance, video & slides, 2021: What is planned? Scheme Components
- Stonehenge Alliance, video & slides, 2021: What is planned? The Stonehenge Tunnel
- Stonehenge Alliance: UNESCO as a key player
- Bowden, Mark et al, 2015, Historic England: The Stonehenge Landscape – Analysing the Stonehenge World Heritage Site