Stonehenge Campaigners win a Three Day High Court Hearing

Stonehenge World Heritage Site – Source: Wikimedia

Stonehenge Alliance heard last week (24 February) that Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site Ltd (SSWHS), the company set up to take forward its legal case against the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to approve the A303 development through the World Heritage Site (WHS), has been granted a three day hearing at the High Court. This hearing will be from 23 to 25 June 2021.

The decision by Grant Shapps was taken, in November 2020, against the advice of five senior Planning Inspectors who had formally examined the scheme in 2019.  The Inspectors had stated that:

[the scheme’s benefits] would not outweigh the harm arising from the excavation of a deep, wide cutting and other engineering works, within the WHS and its setting, of a scale and nature not previously experienced historically in this ‘landscape without parallel’.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, who gave the WHS its international designation in 1986, has also condemned the road scheme. It found, at its 43rd convention in Baku in June-July 2019, that:

[the scheme] retains substantial exposed dual carriageway sections, particularly those at the western end of the property, which would impact adversely on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, especially its integrity, and therefore encourages the State Party to not proceed with the A303 route upgrade for the section Amesbury to Berwick Down project in its current form;

If the scheme goes ahead it is likely that UNESCO will place Stonehenge and Avebury WHS on the Sites In Danger list and it’s World Heritage Status will be lost. 

SSWHS has been obliged to raise its funding target for the legal challenge, due to the complexity of the case which will involve a three-day hearing.

Kate Fielden, Hon Secretary the Stonehenge Alliance and SSWHS, said:

“Having a date for the court hearing gives us something to aim for in preparing for our challenge to Grant Shapps’ outrageous decision. We urge our supporters to help us to continue the fight to save our famous World Heritage Site from this appalling scheme. There can be no more iconic symbol of the global heritage of mankind than Stonehenge. We have a duty to safeguard it for future generations.”

SSWHS is contesting the decision on the following grounds:

  • Harm to each heritage asset within the project should have been weighed in the balance, instead of considering the “historic environment” as a whole.
  • None of the advice provided by Historic England provided the evidential basis for the Secretary of State’s conclusion of “less than substantial harm” to any of the assets impacted by the project.
  • The Secretary of State allowed purported “heritage benefits” to be weighed against heritage harm, before deciding whether that overall harm was “substantial” or “less than substantial”, which was unlawful under the National Policy Statement
  • The Secretary of State failed to take into account that development consent would breach the World Heritage Convention
  • The Secretary of State left out of account mandatory material considerations:
    • the breach of various local policies;
    • the impact of his finding of heritage harm which undermined the business case for the proposal and
    • the existence of at least one alternative
Stonehenge Alliance Campaign – Source: Stonehenge Alliance

Although the legal team is already working at a heavily discounted rate, the three-day hearing requires considerable extra work, so SSWHS has been asked by CrowdJustice to raise the funding target to £80,000. Further information and how to contribute can be found here.

We have a national duty to protect Britain’s prime Neolithic site. The fact that the site was probably constructed by farmers who had migrated via Iberia from the Aegean shows how integrated Britain was with Europe even 5,000 years ago!

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