Third push for Stonehenge Tunnel

24 October 2014

GREAT BRITAIN - The UK Government has set up a working group to reconsider shelved plans to construct a tunnel under Britain’s famous Neolithic monument, Stonehenge. The World Heritage Site also plays host to the heavily congested A303 highway. A tunnel would enable it to be dualled, reducing congestion and protect the area.

A decision is expected in the Chancellor for the Exchequer's Autumn Statement on 3 December, after MP for Salisbury John Glen hailed a tunnel as the "only realistic solution", arguing that a long deep bore tunnel would enable safe passage through without disturbing the hidden barrows and earthworks of the site.

A push for a tunnel was defeated in 1996, and again in 2007 due to cost overruns. The second attempt also saw the National Trust state its preference for a 4km deep tunnel over the original 2km cut and cover vision. In July 2005, Roads Minister Stephen Ladyman announced a review of the options following a cost rise from GBP 284M (USD 505M) when the draft orders were published in 2003 to some GBP 470M (USD 836M). The increase was attributed to very large quantities of weak phosphatic chalk, and a high water table.

The Highways Agency claimed groundwater levels could rise to the surface at times of heavy rainfall where the proposed tunnel alignment passes below a shallow valley to the south of Stonehenge. These factors were felt to complicate the tunnelling process and extend the overall construction programme.

In a statement, the National Trust said, "We would like to see the longest possible tunnel but we recognise that any plan needs to be both affordable and deliverable."

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "We are discussing a range of potential options for improving the A303/A30/A358 corridor with interested parties to understand their views, including consideration of the section of the A303 that passes Stonehenge. No investment decisions have been made as this is work in progress."

According to the office of John Glen, a dualled A303 through a tunnel should generate "over GBP 41bn (USD 65.73bn) for our economy, create 21,400 jobs and increase tourism expenditure by GBP 8.6bn (USD 13.79) every year."