The journalist, Philip Johnston, called the Stonehenge tunnel “scandalous” and “a very British waste of taxpayer money.”  Why?    

“A traffic scheme needs to be justified on a cost-benefit basis and, at £1.7 billion, the proposed tunnel fails that test. Leave aside the damage that could be caused to a World Heritage Site by the construction work, it will take years to complete and will no doubt cost far more than budgeted because every infrastructure project in this country always does.”

“To now spend £2 billion on a tunnel that will hide Stonehenge away, risk the status of a World Heritage Site, cause years of disruption on the main road to the West Country, and shift congestion further along the A303 is madness.”  Daily Telegraph, 18 July 2023 [1]

NOTE ON VARIABLE COSTS QUOTED:  The cost of the A303 Stonehenge scheme frequently quoted by National Highways is £1.7bn.  The Stonehenge Alliance calculates that the cost would be at least £2.5bn to take into account current inflation.  This is a cautious estimate against a climate of rising construction costs and likely to be nearer £3bn depending on start of construction.  Currently expected in 2006/7 following 12to 20 months of preparatory works).

Exaggerated economic benefits

  • Our specialists found that:
    • the evidence produced to demonstrate that economic growth was being held back was weak and the survey subject to bias.
    • A study of factors holding back economic productivity suggested that local skill levels or capital stock had a greater impact on productivity than transport.
    • The need for improved transport connectivity is a general issue, not specific to road connectivity. [2]
  • The National Audit Office reported that the benefits could only be realised if all eight A303 road improvement schemes were completed.  But only three have been funded.  See previous section on ‘Strategic Transport Disbenefits’.
  • The Peninsula rail task force has made a strong economic case for investment in urgent rail improvements in the South West but funding has been piece meal since first set out in 2016. [3]

Exaggerated heritage benefits 

  • When first promoted in 2014 the A303 Stonehenge scheme budget was £1.2bn.  Today the road scheme would cost £2.5bn against a background of inflationary pressures in the construction industry and many unknowns such as hydrogeological and archaeological risks.
  • In 2016 the costs of the Stonehenge scheme resulted in costs that were three times greater than the benefits by using standard assessment.   But tunnels are expensive and these were proposed ostensibly to protect the WHS. 
  • To monetise the value of the heritage value to the scheme the road promoter commissioned a survey which resulted in nearly £1bn.
  • The survey presented to respondents was full of omissions and used a methodology questioned by the National Audit Office, the scheme examiners and our consultants. [4 & 5]
  • When the heritage value of nearly £1bn was added to the standard assessment the scheme BCR (benefit cost ratio) improved, but only scraped in as ‘low’.
  • Furthermore, the scheme promoter’s calculation was prepared before:
    • (a) the current rate of inflation and spiralling construction costs hit all infrastructure projects, and before
    • (b) the heritage impact was criticised by the planning inspectors and UNESCO thereby devaluing the heritage calculation.
  • Our report explains why we believe the scheme no longer adds up, if indeed it ever did. See our report here. [6]

Further reading

  1. Philip Johnston, The Telegraph, 18 July 2023: “The scandalous Stonehenge tunnel is a very British waste of taxpayer money”
  2. Dr Simon Temple for Stonehenge Alliance, May 2019: Transport Planning and Economic Issues 
  3. Peninsula rail task force, 2016: Closing the gap: The South West Peninsula Strategic Rail Blueprint, some components have recently been progressed by Network Rail, but overall, delivery of the rail programme for the SW has a long way to go.
  4. Phil Goodwin’s analysis of flawed heritage valuation, Local Transport Today,  Oct 2021 “If you’re in a hole… it must be time to rethink Stonehenge scheme
  5. Alan James May 2019: Cultural Heritage Value Report, Submitted as written representation for SA
  6. Stonehenge Alliance, December 2022: The mole report: Stonehenge road scheme doesn’t add up!

Take action!

Support the appeal against the judgment 

Sign our international petition.

< Briefing 4: Strategic transport disbenefits

Briefing 6: Carbon generated from road building and traffic >

Please note: The Stonehenge Alliance has no connection with any other protest groups involved in direct action against A303 Stonehenge.


Please share