On 12 November 2020 Transport Secretary Grant Shapps granted a Development Consent Order for the Stonehenge Expressway and Tunnel scheme across the World Heritage Site (WHS). His decision flies in the face of the Examining Authority’s (ExA) recommendation for refusal. The five Planning Inspectors found that
“The effect of the Proposed Development on the OUV of the WHS would lead to substantial harm to the significance of the designated heritage asset. In addition, there would be considerable harm to landscape character and visual amenity. Those adverse impacts would also result in conflict with the NPPF, the Wiltshire Core Strategy and the WHS Management Plan.”
“. . . permanent irreversible harm, critical to the OUV would also occur, affecting not only our own, but future generations. . . .The overall effect on the WHS OUV would be significantly adverse.”
The Secretary of State noted that the ExA’s assessment of substantial harm to the WHS is not supported by Wiltshire Council, the National Trust, the English Heritage Trust, DCMS and Historic England. He concluded that
“. . . on balance and when considering the views of Historic England and also Wiltshire Council, he is satisfied that any harm caused to the WHS when considered as a whole would be less than substantial and therefore the adverse impacts of the Development should be balanced against its public benefits.”
The stark contrast between the regrettable views of those who should be duty bound to argue robustly for the conservation of the archaeological heritage of the WHS – in accordance with planning policy and the World Heritage Convention – and the opinions of independent planning and archaeological experts is shocking. Rescue can take some comfort in having combined with others to make a convincing case to the ExA with planning policy and constraints uppermost in mind.
The A303 Stonehenge controversy, which is not about archaeologists but heritage protection, has serious implications for the future of our past. We will continue to oppose this appalling scheme.