A British court has overturned plans for a $2.4 billion highway project near Stonehenge, saying that the roadway was unlawful because it could damage the World Heritage site. The BBC reported the news on Saturday.
The original plan by Highways England was devised to reduce congestion along the A303, a 64-mile highway that runs past Stonehenge, by digging a new road and an underground tunnel. Campaigners from Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS), who hoped to see the project stopped, crowdfunded the nearly $70,000 needed to bring about a judicial review on the matter.
On July 30, U.K. courts declared that the tunnel was unlawful on two counts, overturning transport secretary Grant Shapps’s approval of the project. Justice David Holgate, who oversaw the review, found that the government had failed to take into account the impact on the site. Additionally, Holgate said, Highways England had not considered alternative plans, as is required by law and UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention, which seeks to protect cultural property.
UNESCO previously listed Stonehenge as being in danger of losing its World Heritage site status. UNESCO has fully stripped just four other sites of the designation. (The most recent to be removed from the World Heritage list, the British city of Liverpool, lost the designation in July.) Various officials had recommended that the highway plan be abandoned to keep Stonehenge from being taken off UNESCO’s list.
A representative from Highways England told ARTnews that it expects that the government will appeal the court decision within three weeks.
Campaigners from SSWHS had been arguing against the tunnel project since it was first proposed in 2014. Protestors and experts pointed out that Stonehenge only represents the most visible of heritage treasures in the surrounding area. Around—and possibly beneath—Stonehenge, there are many important archaeological sites as well. Activists also claimed that the highway would not have done little to decrease congestion on local roads.
When the project was initially approved in 2020, Highways England denied that the roadway would be inefficient, saying that it would bring “much needed relief to local communities and boosting the economy in the south west.”
Tom Holland, a BBC radio host and a member of SSWHS, tweeted, “Wonderful news. Congratulations to everyone who has fought the fight for so long. Hoping the Government will accept this ruling, & save the £2 billion of taxpayers’ money they were planning to blow on a shameful act of desecration.”