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Exclusive | 'Spinal Tap' star calls for £1.6bn Stonehenge tunnel to be scrapped

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Spinal Tap star Harry Shearer has called for the £1.6bn Stonehenge tunnel scheme to be scrapped.

Shearer – who plays fictitious rock star Derek Smalls in the 1980s spoof documentary This is Spinal Tap – has lodged an official response the Planning Inspectorate’s public consultation on Highways England’s plans to build a 2.9km long twin-bore tunnel through the World Heritage Site.

A scene in the film involves the band performing on stage with a minature version of one of Stonehenge’s neolithic arches.

In his response to the consultation, Shearer said that the “internationally-known monument [is] deserving of more respect” than the proposed A303 road scheme.

Speaking to New Civil Engineer, Shearer – who also voices characters in The Simpsons including Mr Burns, Waylon Smithers and Principal Skinner – added that he has “an emotional connection to the place” after a late-night visit in 2009 following the spoof rock band’s performance at Glastonbury.

“Stonehenge” is also the name of Spinal Tap’s hit single and the cast of the original production even released a seven-minute short film named after the neolithic site in 2009 to mark the film’s 25th anniversary.

“When we were driving back [from Glastonbury], we saw the stones and at first thought it was an imitation of the real site, I couldn’t believe how close it was to the road,” Shearer said. “We went in about seven in the evening as they were closing up and our keyboarder managed to get us in for a private viewing, the sun was just going down it was the most perfect visit.”

He added: “The idea that they could put even more cars next to the site just seems wrong to me. I will be following the outcome and I hope that wiser heads prevail and the scheme is either moved further away from the site or scrapped completely.”

Shearer submitted his official opposition to the scheme after the Stonehenge Alliance alerted him to it through Twitter.

He added that he has “a long fascination” with civil engineering projects, having made two documentaries about the hurricane protection system in New Orleans.

Plans for the tunnel were released as part of the development consent order application in October last year. They detail how issues such tunnel excavation and spoil disposal will be tackled.

More than 2,000 submissions were officially filed as part of the Planning Inspectorate’s consultation phase with concerns also raised by Historic England, Natural England and Wiltshire Council.

While supporting “the aspirations of the road scheme”, Historic England raised “outstanding concerns” on the project.

These include the lack of a detailed archaeological mitigation strategy, the impact of both the western and eastern portals and the installation of temporary infrastructure during construction.

“We accept the need to improve the road between Amesbury and Berwick Down,” Historic England’s official statement reads. “However if this potential is to be realised in practice we believe it is essential for a number of matters to be addressed satisfactorily.”

In November last year, New Civil Engineer revealed that the Stonehenge tunnel schemes is “highly likely” to be entirely publicly funded, after chancellor Philip Hammond axed the use of PFI projects.

In response to the consultation, a Highways England spokesperson said: “We will be considering all representations submitted by interested parties as we head towards examination.”

A timeline of detailed examination of the application will now be scheduled by the Planning Inspectorate. Examination will take up to six months, with all submitted representations to be considered by Highways England and the Inspectorate during this process.

Following the examination, the Examining Authority has three months to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who has a further three months to decide whether the scheme can be built. 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • So what? An individual artist born in LA who lives in New Orleans has a view on Stonehenge. That's what inquiries are for, to enable views to be voiced and to balance what emerges as credible. By his own admission he only stopped there (for his "private visit") because ironically, he he drove past it....and that now he doesn't want "even more cars by the monument" seems to have missed the point of the proposed tunnel. Those of us who live near to the monument have known for many years the deep social cost implications of the alternatives and the careful balance required to deliver opportunity for the SW and mitigate impact on the monument and those living in the area. The complications appear to be beyond the grasp of this comedian, and you've given him more columns inches than is reasonably deserved.

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  • Philip Alexander

    I can't really work out the reason for an objection from someone who " has an emotional connection with the Stones" when the tunnel will, by definition, be out of sight over a distance of 2.9km (!!). The landscape on both sides of the existing A303 road will be seamlessly reunited so that the Stones will be in a huge, unspoiled downland area with traffic completely out of sight. Would he therefore prefer the present situation with the A303 being within 500m of the Stones such that visitors can both see and hear an endless stream of traffic?
    Having said that, the length of 2.9km is way longer than necessary and could be reduced to 1.5km without significant visual difference with the proposed scheme.

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