Buckingham professor wins in David and Goliath battle over Stonehenge tunnel

Prof David Jacques, of the University of Buckingham archaeology department, welcomes High Court decision that halts government's tunnel scheme

Monday, 2nd August 2021, 4:59 pm
Updated Monday, 2nd August 2021, 5:00 pm

A University of Buckingham professor has succeeded in a real-life David and Goliath battle against the government to stop the Stonehenge tunnel going ahead.

When the tunnel plan was first suggested several years ago, Prof David Jacques, head of the University of Buckingham archaeology department, met with a Department of Transport official who told him the only way to stop the controversial tunnel scheme from going ahead was to get proof that it would harm the archeological digs in the area - one of which Prof Jacques had been leading for the last decade.

Prof Jacques leads a dig every year at Blick Mead, just a mile from Stonehenge, which University of Buckingham archaeology students attend. He joined forces with other protestors and archaeologists, and lawyers took the case to the High Court

David Jacques with a prehistoric find in a trench at Blick Mead, near Stonehenge

On Friday, July 30, the court ruled that the Stonehenge monument has been declared “safe” from the threat of “irreversible harm” after the government’s plan to build a road tunnel nearby was halted by the High Court.

The campaign group succeeded in the judicial review of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to approve the £1.7 billion road project near Stonehenge,

The scheme – which was given the green light in November – would have overhauled eight miles of the A303, between Amesbury and Berwick Down, with a new two-mile-long tunnel.

The road, which is a popular route for motorists travelling to and from the south west of England, is often severely congested on the single-carriageway stretch near the prehistoric stone monument.

Highways England says its plan for a tunnel would have hidden the traffic passing the site and cut journey times. The scheme was approved despite Planning Inspectorate officials warning that it would cause “permanent, irreversible harm” to the Unesco World Heritage Site.

In the High Court ruling, Mr Justice Holgate found the decision to approve the plan was “unlawful” on two grounds. He concluded that there was a “material error of law” in the decision-making process because there was no evidence of the impact on each individual asset at the historic site. He also found that Mr Shapps “irrationally” failed to consider alternative schemes, in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and common law.

Prof Jacques said: "The Stonehenge World Heritage Site landscape is unutterably precious and you tamper with it at your peril – you cannot make it come back.

"There should be perpetual inquiry here and the UK government has not understood that.

"The tunnel scheme would have clearly compromised the archaeology if it had happened. Whose interest would that be in?

"The world owes those who have campaigned for Stonehenge landscape survival big time."

It is possible the government could appeal against the decision by the High Court.