Supporters of a longer Stonehenge Tunnel are continuing to insist the alternative solution should be considered in new documents submitted to the Planning Inspectorate.

This comes in response to transport secretary Grant Shapps’ request for further comments on the scheme from interested parties.

In its submission to the Planning Inspectorate, the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) said it “continues to urge” a reconsideration of alternatives due to the harm that the proposed scheme would do to the World Heritage Site (WHS).

The CBA said its position remains the same as in evidence submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in May 2019, when it suggested considering a southern surface route or a long bored tunnel “to remove the A303 from the WHS without unduly harming other objectives”.

Overall, the CBA stressed that it does not believe alternatives have been adequately considered in the planning process.

Its submission says: “We reiterate even more strongly that far more serious consideration should therefore be given to any alternatives by which the harm to the WHS could be avoided – especially where they offer much greater opportunities for enhancement and rehabilitation.”

The CBA added that if a long tunnel under the whole of the WHS is not achievable, then other alternatives such as the southern surface route should be examined “to avoid the unacceptable harm caused by the proposed scheme”.

“The CBA examined this issue in some detail, recognising that if a substantially longer tunnel is not acceptable, the southern surface offers significant advantages which had not been optimised or given sufficient weight,” the submission says.

“This includes how beneficial outcomes are weighed against harm – especially in the context of how the cumulative effects of the existing highway are dealt with as required by NPSNN, how adverse effects might be ameliorated and how cost benefits are identified.”

The current plans are for a 12.8km dual carriageway, and a 3.2km tunnel underneath the World Heritage Site closely following the existing A303 route.

Shapps is currently in the process of “re-determining” his decision on National Highways’ planning application for the Stonehenge Tunnel after a High Court judge ruled his original decision to approve the scheme as “unlawful”.

As part of the process, Shapps released a statement of matters in December last year which sets out the aspects of the planning application that he will be taking another look at.

A big part of redetermining the application is looking at the environmental and carbon impact of the proposed scheme in relation to government commitments and legislation. Shapps will also have to prove that he has considered an alternative scheme for a longer tunnel.

However National Highways has stood by its original Stonehenge Tunnel plans.

In documents submitted to the Planning Inspectorate, National Highways said its position regarding a bored tunnel extension “remains unchanged” and “this option should be excluded from further development”.

The roads operator added: “There is no evidence that the additional investment required to extend the tunnel length would deliver meaningful additional benefits to the World Heritage Site (WHS) that would justify the additional cost.”

National Highways has also ruled out a series of other alternatives. The cut and cover tunnel extension was rejected on the grounds that the balance of benefits and disbenefits would not justify the “significant additional cost”.

Surface routes to the south of the WHS were also rejected due to their “much larger footprint” and “greater overall environmental impact than the partially tunnelled options”.

National Highways project director for the A303 Stonehenge scheme Derek Parody said: “It is a scheme objective to conserve and enhance the WHS and this is being achieved through close collaborative working with heritage groups, including English Heritage, National Trust, Historic England and the independent A303 Scientific Committee, and our archaeology contractors Wessex Archaeology.

“The scheme will not only sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the WHS, it will also have a beneficial effect, and extensive archaeological studies and assessments have been undertaken to provide evidence of the benefits that the scheme will deliver for the World Heritage Site.

“A longer tunnel would represent a significant cost, provide limited benefits to heritage and limit the effectiveness of the scheme in relieving congestion along the route and associated local traffic problems.”

Source: New Civil Engineer

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