Fresh threats to £1.7bn Stonehenge tunnel plans

Keir Starmer has promised to take a fresh look at the controversial £1.7bn Stonehenge tunnel project as United Nations chiefs called for the ancient site to be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to the proposals.

The Labour leader told the BBC that his party would “review” the Wiltshire project once a legal case against it has run its course. It comes after campaigners were this month granted permission to challenge an earlier ruling that the road project should go ahead.

The scheme was initially approved by ministers in November 2020 but has been subject to legal wrangling ever since.

Starmer said: “Certainly something needs to be done at Stonehenge because the traffic there is awful. I think the current plan is evidence of how long infrastructure projects take under this government. We’ve got to change that.

“I think it’s in judicial review at the moment so we’ll have to wait for the court hearing but then we’ll review it after that.”

Meanwhile, the provisional agenda for next month’s Unesco World Heritage Convention in India includes a draft decision to place Stonehenge on the List of World Heritage in Danger “with a view to mobilising international support”.

The document warns that the proposed scheme, which includes almost 13km of new road, more than 3km of it within a twin-bored tunnel passing within 200 metres of the heritage site, “remains a threat to the outstanding universal value of the property”.

Controversial cuttings making up 3.5km of the proposed highway had been retained despite requests to remove them, the committee said, and changes suggested in mitigation would only have “very modest visual benefits”.

John Adams, chair of the Stonehenge Alliance, said the committee report was “a damming verdict on National Highways’ plans”.

“Its minor tweaks have quite rightly cut no ice with Unecso,” he added. “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. Whichever way you look at it, this scheme will be hugely damaging and should be scrapped.”

National Highways in 2022 selected a joint venture comprising Spain’s FCC Construcción, Italian firm WeBuild and Austria’s BeMo Tunnelling for the £1.25bn construction contract on the Stonehenge scheme.

National Highways and the government have been contacted for comment.

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