Controversial plans to build a tunnelled section of the A303 near Stonehenge have been unveiled at the beginning of a new public consultation into the scheme.
The tunnel, which is part of the £1.6 billion upgrade of the road in the area, aims to restore the tranquil setting of the famous stone circle by removing the sight of the busy thouroughfare.
In the initial designs, a new dual carriageway route would closely follow the existing A303, with tunnel entrances being created within the World Heritage Site.
But while leading heritage groups have said that the plans will ‘enhance and protect’ the landscape, opponents have claimed that it could cause irreparable damage to the area.
The National Trust, English Heritage and government agency Historic England are among the organisations who have welcomed ‘improvements’ to the plans – including increasing the length of the tunnel with a grass-covered canopy at the western end.
They also support plans to ensure that the road and tunnel entrances avoid key monuments and barrows, and do not intrude on views of the winter solstice from the stone circle.
In a joint statement, the heritage organisations said: ‘The World Heritage Site is internationally important, not just for Stonehenge itself but for the unique and rich concentrations of burial mounds and monuments in the landscape.
‘This is a once-in-a generation opportunity to reunite this ancient landscape, giving people the opportunity to tread pathways used by our ancestors who built the monuments, to visit and appreciate the monuments and see and hear wildlife without the intrusion of the traffic and noise from the road. ‘
But it has faced backlash from University of Buckingham archaeologist David Jacques, who warned of irreparable damage.
’It seems blatantly obvious the Stonehenge landscape is unutterably precious, and if you tamper with it, you are not going to get it back’, he said.
Prof Jacques, who is excavating the Blick Mead site a mile and a half to the east of the standing stones, claims that the flyover would destroy important organic evidence of people living at Blick Mead for thousands of years, and ‘all their stories and our stories will be lost’.
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The tunnel was approved last year by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, despite objections from the International Council on Monuments and Sites UK, which advises United Nations cultural body Unesco.
Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England chief executive said: ‘These upgrades in the South West will improve millions of journeys.’