UNESCO has confirmed a warning that Stonehenge could be stripped of its world heritage status, due to concerns that a government-backed road tunnel will irreversibly damage an area of ”outstanding universal value.”
A report to Unesco’s world heritage committee was approved unchanged on Thursday outlining concerns about the £ 1.7bn A303 road tunnel.
Unless the designs of the 3.3 km (two mile) tunnel are expanded and changed, the committee recommends placing Stonehenge on Unesco’s list of world heritage in danger next year.
Last month, the superior court was told that the decision by Grant Shapps, the transportation secretary, to approve the tunnel last November was illegal because it did not adequately consider the damage that would be done to a number of prehistoric sites and many thousands of ancient artifacts.
The Unesco committee determined that if the high court confirms planning consent for the tunnel, Stonehenge should be included in its list of hazards.
He said that despite minor improvements to the original plan, the proposed cut-and-cover tunnel would irreversibly damage an area of ”outstanding universal value.”
Shapps ignored advice from a 2018 Unesco mission and from his own Planning Inspectorate that the tunnel would cause “substantial damage” and should not go ahead. Unesco had recommended a longer and boring tunnel to cover more of the proposed dual carriageway.
The committee expressed dismay that Shapps chose the cheapest option of a short, shallow tunnel. It noted: “The State party [the UK government] determined that the added benefits of the landscape would not justify the additional costs … It is regretted that for such an iconic world heritage property, arguments persist that the perceived benefits of a longer tunnel do not outweigh the costs.
He added: “The scheme should be modified to offer the best available result for OUV. [outstanding universal value] of the property.”
The committee said a proposed “green bridge” 150m west of the proposed tunnel “could not be considered an adequate solution.” It notes that approximately 1 km of the proposed new dual carriageway will be “exposed in a wide cut within an open landscape.”
The committee also appeared to rule out further talks with the UK government unless it agrees to abandon the current tunnel. He said: “While it is noted that the State party commits to continue to participate, if the permission granted were ratified by the higher court, it is not clear what could be achieved with greater participation, since it would not be possible to offset the adverse impacts. unacceptable of the current scheme. “
Last month, the Department of Transportation said: “We are confident that the decision made by the secretary of state to proceed with the A303 Stonehenge project was correct, legal and well informed. The the reasons are stated in the decision letter. We cannot comment further as this is a live litigation case. “
Stonehenge Alliance, which is campaigning against the tunnel, tweeted: “There is no act of ‘reverse vandalism’ if the #StonehengeTunnel proceeds.” He asked the government to heed the views of Unesco and its own inspectors.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism