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'Stonehenge Will Be Reunited With Its Natural Landscape By 2008' Says Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone

Two km bored tunnel will remove A303 from World Heritage site.

The decision to upgrade the A303 alongside Stonehenge with a 2.1km bored tunnel will deliver a dramatic improvement of the setting of the site and enable people to enjoy and appreciate Britain's greatest prehistoric monument, Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone said today.

The Minister was reacting to today's package of transport improvements, announced by the Secretary of State for Transport, Alastair Darling, which included proposals for the A303.

Tessa Blackstone said:

" This is a great day for Stonehenge. The decision to go ahead with a bored tunnel near the site is a better solution than previous plans for a cut and cover tunnel. It will ensure Stonehenge is reunited with its surrounding monuments in their natural downland landscape setting, protect the site from heavy traffic, and make possible the construction of a world class visitor centre.

"Stonehenge is one of this country's great heritage attractions and one of the most important World Heritage Sites. For many years poor facilities at the site and inadequate transport links have prevented visitors from experiencing the real majesty and mystery of the stones. The tunnel along with improved visitor facilities will deliver many of the objectives of the Management Plan for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. It will ensure that future generations will have better access to the site and a more informed experience."

Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage, said: "This is fantastic news. We very warmly welcome the Secretary of State for Transport's decision for a 2.1km bored tunnel on the A303 adjacent to Stonehenge.

"Today's news is an important moment in Stonehenge's 5000 year history. It means that Stonehenge gets the dignified setting it so justly deserves, the roads are made safer and the core area of the World Heritage Site landscape is reunited.

"We are pleased that the Transport Secretary has fully taken our recent advice on this issue that a cut and cover tunnel is now unacceptable."

Professor Barry Cunliffe, Institute of Archaeology, Oxford, said: "This is wonderful news that will safeguard Stonehenge and its landscape and shows at last that all of Government is taking responsibility for the historic environment."

The Minister said that the Government had considered a number of tunnel options for the site both in terms of type of construction and length. The additional work done by the Highways Agency had shown that a bored tunnel, although more expensive, delivered the be the best solution in terms of protecting the archaeological heritage and wider environmental concerns. There were also transport advantages, particularly during construction.

Tessa Blackstone concluded:

" As well as the major benefits to Stonehenge the Government=s plans for the A303 will have many other advantages. They will improve traffic flow, considerably improve access to the South West for both visitors and industry, and relieve local villages of heavy congestion.

I am delighted that this decision has been agreed. We can now press ahead with our plans to complete the Stonehenge project in line with our original timetable of 2008. Draft orders for construction of the road will be published early next year. "

Notes to Editors

1. The estimated cost of the bored tunnel is ,183m (including VAT). The scheme will be jointly financed from the Highways Agency budget and heritage sources.

2. The Government considered all options for the site from doing nothing to a 4.5km bored tunnel. The investigation showed that a cut and cover would not only damage the archaeology and affect the landscape, it would also increase traffic disruption during construction. The 4.5km bored tunnel would have been prohibitively expensive, costing over ,400m, and would also have had serious environmental disbenefits and delayed completion of the whole project to 2012.  

3. The entire scheme consists of a flyover at the Countess East junction, the tunnel and a dual carriageway by - pass for the nearby village of Winterbourne Stoke.

4. Subject to the Statutory Procedures being completed on schedule it is hoped to start construction in 2005. The scheme will open in stages with the flyover being completed by 2007 and the rest of the scheme in 2008.

STONEHENGE DECISION: SUPPORTIVE QUOTES

The following have issued statements reacting to today's news

Julian Richards, archaeologist and BBC broadcaster, said:


"There can be no doubting the importance of Stonehenge and its landscape - World Heritage Site, icon of our prehistoric past. Many of us who care deeply about this place have been worried that decisions would be made that would irrevocably damage this most sensitive of archaeological landscapes. But these anxieties are now over - with the announcement that a tunnel is to be bored beneath the most sensitive part of the Stonehenge landscape. A bold and wonderful decision - the best news about Stonehenge that I've heard for years!"
  

Tony Robinson, Presenter of Channel 4's Time Team, said:

"This is fantastic news,  At last the future of Stonehenge and its heartland is assured."


Professor John C. Barrett, Head of Department in the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory at Sheffield University said:

 "This is excellent news. At last Stonehenge, one of the greatest
achievements of the ancient world, will be given the setting that it
deserves.

"Archaeologists, environmentalists and the wider community  should welcome the decision to fund the 2.1km bored tunnel for the A303 at Stonehenge. Neither the plan to cut the tunnel from above,  nor the suggestion for a longer 4.5 km bored tunnel, seem credible. Cutting the tunnel would have caused considerable archaeological and environmental destruction at the heart of the World Heritage site. The longer bored tunnel is not justified in terms of cost. Stonehenge and its landscape allow us to encounter something of the mystery and power of the prehistoric world. This proposal opens the way for a far greater appreciation of that world."

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