RAC Foundation Appeals To Prime Minister To Intervene On Stonehenge Disgrace

The Prime Minister needs to intervene to ensure that the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge is restored to the setting which it deserves by putting the A303 into a deep-bored tunnel, according to the RAC Foundation today [25th August].

The Foundation Chairman, David Holmes, has written to Mr Blair to say: "I am writing to appeal to you to resolve the indecision which is delaying a desperately needed improvement to a major route to the South West, and preventing the Stonehenge World Heritage Site from being restored to the setting which it deserves. Only you have the authority to cut through departmental inertia and get some action.”

The A303 passes less than 200 metres from Stonehenge, and the A344 almost touches the Heel Stone. This not only compromises the experience of the stones for visitors, but also has negative consequences for a much wider area, as this single-carriageway bottleneck on a key strategic route to the South West holds back economic growth. The high density of traffic also leads to an unacceptable number of avoidable deaths and injuries.

The sensitive nature of the site was taken fully into account by the 2004 Public Inquiry which, having given environmental groups, heritage groups, spiritual groups and local residents a fair and thorough hearing, recommended a dual-carriageway scheme and a 2.1km deep-bore tunnel (the Published Scheme). Construction was scheduled to start this year but was put on hold by the Department for Transport after increases in the projected cost.

David Holmes, Chairman, RAC Foundation, said: "The RAC Foundation is asking Tony Blair to intervene because we fear that the opportunity to solve this problem is about to be lost. Because the cost estimate for the scheme rose to £510m, the Department for Transport insisted on re-examining some of the options which the Public Inquiry ruled out. This is a backwards step, as any of these alternatives would have to be the subject of further consultation and full public inquiries. None could start for a decade or more."

The bored tunnel has substantial support across the archaeological spectrum, including English Heritage, the UK Committee of UNESCO, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Archaeology and archaeologists specifically concerned with Stonehenge. It is supported by local councils, local MPs and tourist bodies. It also has the backing of environmental groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Leading British archaeologist Mike Pitts told the Foundation: "I have cared deeply about Stonehenge ­ as archaeologist, guide, writer and broadcaster ­ since my first excavation there nearly 30 years ago. The roads are an international disgrace and embarrassment, threatening archaeology, ecology, peace, public access and tourism. The approved A303 tunnel is the acceptable and realistic way to change that. We can give the world the Stonehenge it deserves ­ and open an entirely new engagement with the archaeology of this wonderful place."

David Holmes also reminded the Prime Minister that the Published Scheme is the only option that could be finished in time for the 2012 Olympics, and so form part of the legacy of the Games for the UK.

Holmes concluded: "Solving the traffic problems on the A303, whilst giving Stonehenge the setting it deserves and transforming the experience of visitors to the site, would be an enduring and inspiring legacy from the Games.”

"This scheme is more than just a road. It is the key to putting this World Heritage Site into a setting of which this country can be proud. It would free Stonehenge from the 20th Century clutter which so detracts from it now, and reconnect the stones with the remarkable surrounding landscape: an endowment for generations to come.

"We very much hope that the Prime Minister will be willing to intervene."

The RAC Foundation has a campaign website and on-line petition at www.racfoundation.org/trafficfreestonehenge

5 September 2006 Staff

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