London, United Kingdom: Following objections from historians, archaeologists, and druids, a British court on Friday reversed government authorization for the construction of a controversial motorway tunnel near the Stonehenge stone circle.
The decision came after UNESCO confirmed that the prehistoric site would be added to its “in danger” list if the proposal went through, and warned that it may lose its World Heritage Site classification if the project went ahead.
The High Court granted a judicial review and overturned the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps’, authorization for the road-building project in November 2020.
Those opposed to the idea, notably the Stonehenge Alliance, had warned about the large engineering project in an area rich in archaeological riches surrounding the standing stones, with the road tunnel beginning and terminating within the monument.
Druids who see the mystical monument as sacrosanct also objected to the plan.
“Incredible news. Hugs all around,” the Stonehenge Alliance tweeted after the ruling.
Highways England requested approval in 2018 to construct a new 13-kilometer section of an existing key route, including a new 3.3-kilometer tunnel.
The route would run through a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Historian Tom Holland, who has been campaigning against the plan, called the decision “great news.”
“Hoping the Government will accept this ruling, & save the £2 billion of taxpayers’ money they were planning to blow on a shameful act of desecration,” he added.
Highways England tweeted that it was “hugely disappointed by the decision”.
It stated that it will have to wait until the Department of Transport “considers its options.”
Shapps chose to disregard the recommendations of a panel of experienced planning inspectors who recommended rejecting the application last year. He claimed that the scheme’s advantages exceeded its drawbacks.
The court emphasized that its decision was not based on the merits of the scheme, but on the legitimacy of the minister’s permission.
It decided that Shapps was not provided with “legally sufficient material” to assess the scheme’s impact on specific elements of the heritage site.
It also decided that Shapps and the panel of planners failed to investigate two alternative possibilities, as required by law: a longer tunnel that would begin and end outside the World Heritage Site, and placing a cover to the areas of open road in the planned scheme.