The news that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has green lighted a major expressway through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS) has bewildered, outraged and shocked people across the country and around the world.
The independent panel of planning inspectors for the A303 road scheme by Stonehenge concluded that the massive infrastructure would cause “substantial harm” and should be refused. But the Transport Secretary overruled their recommendation. He also ignored UNESCO’s advice to think again and showed that he was prepared to break with the 1972 World Heritage Convention, an International Treaty that signifies the heritage significance of the whole site, described as “a landscape without parallel”.
Not only does Shapps ignore over 190,000 petitioners from 147 different countries but chooses to listen to the South West Business Council who, on the basis of an unreliable survey declared that the investment would “bring an overall £40 billion boost [to the South West] during the next two decades.” In fact, the time saving would be 8 minutes on a long distant journey.
Bridget Wayman, Wiltshire Council’s Highways Cabinet member for Wiltshire Council, a scheme supporter, might have forgotten admitting in 2015 that congestion was intermittent. She tweeted then:
Having been stuck on many roads at peak times, I agree congestion intermittent. A303 no different. Mostly free flowing.
Grant Shapps preferred the views of Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust to the independent panel. These heritage bodies are not neutral but have a direct interest in the scheme going ahead. They are more preoccupied with the benefits of the tunnel for tourists to access their sites than the damage to the rest of the Stonehenge site.
Readers of West England Bylines cannot fail to discern a pattern here: breaking an international agreement for political advantage, advised by vested interests and spending money on an extravagant scheme for what is poor value and ultimately an unsustainable form of transport, notwithstanding the Transport Secretary’s recent nod towards electric cars.
The Stonehenge Alliance, the mutual group formed in 2001 to protect the WHS from further damage, has fought this scheme since David Cameron and Nick Clegg made their election promise announced a £15bn road fund at Stonehenge.
A new group that includes some individuals from the Stonehenge Alliance, Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS), instructed solicitors to write to the Department for Transport outlining its concerns. Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site is being represented by Rowan Smith of Leigh Day LLP, David Wolfe Q.C. of Matrix Chambers and Victoria Hutton of 39 Essex Chambers who will test the lawfulness of the Transport Secretary’s decision which they believe is inconsistent with the World Heritage Convention.
To make this challenge possible, campaigners are launching an appeal on Crowd Justice to raise £50,000 to cover the initial costs of the legal action.
Author, historian and broadcaster, Tom Holland, is President of the Stonehenge Alliance and expressed his whole hearted backing for the legal action:
“The Government has ignored advice from both UNESCO and the independent panel who presided over a six-month examination. To have won the arguments based on reason and evidence, and then to have them overruled on a ministerial whim, shows just how broken the roads approval process is.
“I urge everyone who cares about the Stonehenge World Heritage Site to support this legal action. There is still a chance to stop the bulldozers moving in and vandalising our most precious and iconic prehistoric landscape.”
The recent mass trespass was organised by Dan Hooper, better known as “Swampy” who set up a support event under the banner of Stonehenge Heritage Action Group. See Facebook.
The Government has arrogantly and disrespectfully disregarded the advice of the planning inspectors and given the go-ahead. It is this decision that is being legally challenged by Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
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