Highways England has labelled archaeologists’ claims that building a road tunnel close to Stonehenge will cause irreparable damage as “alarmist” and “untrue”.
Stonehenge Alliance – a group of archaeological and environmental campaigners including Campaign for Better Transport and Friends of the Earth – said the £1.6bn A303 upgrade plan, which includes a 2.9km twin-bored tunnel close to Stonehenge, would “destroy important archaeology” at the World Heritage Site.
But Highways England project manager for the A303 Stonehenge scheme David Bullock has hit back, labelling the comments as “alarmist”.
“The suggestion that Highways England’s survey work will destroy layers of archaeology is alarmist and untrue,” he said.
“No work has been carried out during unsuitable conditions – the recent wet weather has resulted in the plant operations being stood down at times to avoid any risk to archaeology.
”The works are being undertaken in a highly professional manner with due care being exercised at all times. No destruction of archaeological layers has occurred.”
Bullock added: “The tunnel/tunnelling will cause no damage to Stonehenge itself or any other surface features within the World Heritage Site, and in terms of construction, all efforts will be made to minimise disruption and impact.
“The preferred route has been carefully chosen to avoid monuments and barrow groups, and our modified plans also included moving the position of the western entrance to the tunnel to avoid conflicting with the Winter Solstice alignment.”
The Stonehenge Alliance claims that the planned western entrance to the tunnel would partly destroy an ancient Beaker burial cemetery, as well as several Neolithic longbarrows. Its comments came in the alliance’s submission to Highways England’s consultation, which closed yesterday (23 April).
Campaign for Better Transport local groups campaigner Chris Todd told New Civil Engineer that the works would be “highly damaging” to the Neolithic site and to contractors’ reputations.
He said: “I think any firm looking to get involved with the Stonehenge project should think long and hard before doing so because there is a real risk of their reputation suffering.
“There is no doubt that regardless of the tunnelling element, the road building element is going to be highly damaging.”
Last year, Highways England programme director for the A303 Stonehenge scheme Derek Parody said some potential contractors were nervous about risk allocation on the scheme.
Stonehenge Alliance member and vice-chair of the British Archaeological Trust Kate Fielden told the BBC that surveying work currently being undertaken by Highways England were at risk of causing damage.
The archaeological investigations are part of a programme of works which were devised with the Heritage Monitoring and Advisory Group, made up of Historic England, Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service, the National Trust and English Heritage.
“Every time you take heavy machinery out [on to site] you diminish the record for future generations because it gets too badly disturbed,” said Fielden.
“And when it’s muddy and the ground is wet, it gets compressed and any fragile archaeology could potentially be crushed.”