Stonehenge Tunnel project to go to High Court

A JUDICIAL review hearing into the Stonehenge road project has been ordered.

Campaigners have secured a hearing in their judicial review challenge about the decision to allow a new A303 dual carriageway and tunnel that would cause significant harm to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS).

It comes after the Guardian reported that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ignored official advice to review the scheme on environmental grounds.

Transport Action Network (Tan) is accusing the Department for Transport (DfT) of failing to take account of the Paris Agreement, which commits signatories such as the UK to tackle climate change by taking measures to limit global warming to well below 2C.

‘Rolled up hearing’

A High Court judge has decided that the legal arguments must be dealt with at a “rolled up” hearing at which the Court will decide both whether the claim is arguable and, if so, whether it succeeds.

Now the claim by Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS), a group of individual supporters of the Stonehenge Alliance, will proceed to hearing at the High Court in a matter of months. There will be a preliminary hearing next week to set the timetable for that process.

If the Court ultimately rules that Mr Shapps’ decision was unlawful, he will have to rethink the project.

Permission for the scheme was granted against the advice of the Examining Authority (ExA), a five-person panel of expert inspectors, who examined the application by Highways England for the Amesbury to Berwick Down draft Development Consent Order under section 37 of the Planning Act 2008.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

The inspectors said the scheme would “permanently harm the integrity of the WHS and seriously harm its authenticity”.

It is argued that the scheme is also contrary to the Wiltshire Core Strategy and the requirements of the World Heritage Convention.

Mr Shapps agreed with the ExA that the development will harm visual and spatial relationships and settings in the ancient landscape of the World Heritage Site but concluded that the level of harm would not be substantial and would be outweighed by the public benefit.

Tom Holland, Stonehenge Alliance President, said: “This is very good news.

“We have always believed that the Government’s intention to build a great gash of concrete and tarmac through the World Heritage Site is a dereliction of its responsibilities, and we are delighted that there will now be the opportunity to test this conviction in a court of law.

“We urge Grant Shapps to review his decision, and act to conserve rather than vandalise this most precious of prehistoric landscapes.”

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said: “There is clearly a huge level of public outrage against, what is in effect, an existential threat to one of the most treasured symbols of British history.

“However, this legal case must proceed on points of procedural error.

“Today’s decision means that our client’s case and the Government’s decision-making process will now be fully scrutinised by the Courts.”

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