The plans, part of a £1.7bn road scheme set out by the Department for Transport (DfT), have been fiercely opposed by campaigners who brought the challenge against the transport secretary’s decision to approve the plans.
This afternoon the High Court ruled that the secretary of state, Grant Shapps, was not given legally sufficient material to enable him to make the decision to go ahead with the tunnel plans.
The judge also concluded that he was legally obliged to consider the relative merits of the alternatives to the proposed tunnel, including one which would have seen an extended tunnel going beyond the western boundary of Stonehenge. In the court judgement, Mr Justice Holgate describes Schapp’s decision not to do so as “irrational”.
The group Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS), which brought the legal action, argued last month that Shapps’ decision to go ahead with the A303 dual carriageway plans was taken against the advice of a panel of five senior planning inspectors who examined the scheme in 2019.
The group argued the decision was unlawful because Shapps had not examined the impact of the scheme on each “heritage asset”, like barrows and remains of ancient enclosures that would be affected.
Taking to social media, SSWHS described the judgement as “incredible news”.
If the DfT’s plans had been given the green light, Stonehenge was at risk of being put on UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ list, a precursor to being stripped of its world heritage status.
The UNESCO heritage committee had said that the proposed tunnel length would not protect the site’s outstanding universal value, and has suggested a longer tunnel should be considered instead, with an entrance and exit far enough away from the Stonehenge site to prevent a “highly adverse and irreversible impact”.
Earlier this week in another judicial review hearing, the High Court ruled the government’s £27.4bn road investment strategy to be lawful, following a legal challenge from campaigners who said the decision let the government “off the hook” regarding its climate commitments.