Stonehenge 'could lose World Heritage status' if tunnel gets green light

Historians and campaign groups are warning Stonehenge could have its famous World Heritage status taken away if the Government builds a tunnel underneath it.

Opponents say it would be "disastrous" for tourism, but people living near the Wiltshire site have been fighting a 20-year battle to ease traffic jams that bring the roads around Stonehenge to a standstill.

A decision is due on Tuesday.

The main roads around the 5,000-year-old site are clogged daily with commuters and tourists and the A303 is often labelled as Britain's worst bottleneck.

The Government wants to build a 1.8-mile long tunnel underneath Stonehenge, which it says it would be deep enough not to damage the archaeology of the site.

The National Trust backs the plan. It does not want nearby roads widened because, it argues, they could be seen from the site.

However, some Trust members, such as Kate Fielden, are now urging it not to support the plan.

Ms Fielden, who is also secretary of the Stonehenge Alliance, said: "The deep cuttings, the lights, the gantries, the signage - all those things that go with a... four-lane highway - will damage the integrity - by the sight and sound of it - of a number of really important monuments in this landscape."

She added: "Stonehenge has been designated a site of outstanding universal value by UNESCO and I think it would be very poor of us as humanity to treat it in such a disrespectful manner."

It is a fear shared by many archaeologists, who believe it could mean Stonehenge losing its World Heritage Status, reserved for the globe's most historically valuable sites.

UNESCO is not ruling it out.

Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel, Chief of Europe and North America at UNESCO, said: "We are not there, we have to assess first what are the potential impacts of any changes which might occur on the values of the site and on its integrity."

The organisation has already advised the Government not to go ahead with the tunnel as it is planned; previously ruling in a report in June that the development would cause "considerable damage".

But for many who live nearby, they have had to endure two decades of traffic jams that completely clog the A303 and send cars trying to avoid the queues through neighbouring villages.

Janice Hassett, from the Stonehenge Traffic Action Group, said: "Our village of Shrewton is packed with traffic every day and older people can't even cross the road to get to the doctors' surgery."

A government spokesperson said: "We are investing up to £1.8bn to improve the A303 near Stonehenge so that people can visit the 10,000 acre World Heritage site without the disruption of a nearby major road.

"We are working closely with Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage to develop these plans and they have welcomed the significant benefits our proposals will bring to the protection of Stonehenge.

"Upgrading the road will cut congestion, improve journey times and provide a huge boost to the economy in the South West as it links people with jobs and businesses with customers."