Arguments based on law, climate and heritage are coming together to throw in doubt the highly controversial scheme to construct a tunnel to take the A303 past the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
The High Court has quashed the development consent order (DCO) which Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had granted. The Minister had made this decision despite the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate, which advised that the project would cause “permanent irreversible harm” to the heritage of the Stonehenge complex. After the minister’s decision, the campaign group Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site hired solicitors to investigate the lawfulness of the decision, having crowdfunded £50,000 to bring a judicial review at the High Court.
When the case came to the High Court, Mr Justice Holgate found there to be a “material error of law” in considering the impact on Stonehenge as a whole rather than assessing the impact on individual assets. He concluded that the minister “was not given legally sufficient material to be able lawfully to carry out the ‘heritage’ balancing exercise required by the National Policy Statement for National Networks and the overall balancing exercise required by the Planning Act 2008. Moreover, the minister had failed to follow mandatory rules, including including examination of viable alternatives.
Accordingly he quashed the DCO, while making plain that this was a matter of procedural law, not a judgement on the merits of the project.
John Adams, director of the campaign group, said that “now that we are facing a climate emergency, it is all the more important that this ruling should be a wake-up call for the government. It should look again at its roads programme and take action to reduce road traffic and eliminate any need to build new and wider roads that threaten the environment as well as our cultural heritage.”
The World Heritage Director at UNESCO recently stated that a decision to build the tunnel would jeopardise the World Heritage status of Stonehenge. The Secretary of State will now have to decide how to solve the problem of congestion on the A303.