UK campaigner group, Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS), has secured a hearing in their judicial review challenge on the decision to allow a new A303 dual carriageway and tunnel that it believes would cause significant harm to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS).
A High Court judge has decided that legal arguments, concerning the UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to allow the 12.8km long road project with a 3.2km long tunnel past Stonehenge, 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 SSWHS, a group of individual supporters of the Stonehenge Alliance, will proceed to a 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 controversial road project. SSWHS says in a statement that 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.
The inspectors said the scheme, with deep cuttings and tunnel entrances within the WHS, 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.
At the public examination, the Stonehenge Alliance and a number of other parties argued that the World Heritage Site ought to be protected in its entirety. However, Mr Shapps is reportedly satisfied the Development has been designed to accord with the National Planning Policy Statement for National Networks (NPSNN) and that reasonable mitigation has been included to minimise harm to the landscape.
The Stonehenge site was declared by the World Heritage Committee (WHC) to be of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) in 1986. Owing to its remarkable complex of prehistoric monuments and sites it is considered to be a “landscape without parallel”.
SSWHS says that an alternative plan for the road, namely a longer tunnel that would cause less harm, was not considered by Mr Shapps.