The National Planning Inspectorate has said the £1.6bn Stonehenge Tunnel can be considered for a Development Consent Order (DCO).
The application was submitted in October.
The project will now go through a four-stage process to determine whether it will get planning permission.
The first stage which is pre-examination usually takes around three months, with the following examination stage taking around six months.
After the examination, the Inspectorate will have three months to report to transport secretary Chris Grayling with a recommendation for the scheme, after which Grayling will have a further three months to make the decision on whether to grant or refuse development consent.
Once a decision has been made, there will be a six-week period in which it can be challenged in the High Court.
The A303 Stonehenge tunnel project is one of the most complex and controversial projects Highways England is undertaking. It involves building a 2.9km long twin-bore tunnel through the World Heritage Site with portals inside its boundaries.
Plans for the tunnel were released as part of the DCO application. They detail how issues such tunnel excavation and spoil disposal will be tackled.
The project was to be funded using a PFI model, however speaking exclusively to New Civil Engineer, Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan confirmed that both the Stonehenge tunnel and Lower Thames Crossing schemes will have to be publicly funded following chancellor Philip Hammond’s decision to axe the private funding model.
O’Sullivan said while a new model of private financing was likely to be set up, any alternative model of private financing was unlikely to be in place in time to be used on the project.
If the project obtains a DCO, construction is scheduled to start in 2021.
Like what you’ve read? To receive New Civil Engineer’s daily and weekly newsletters click here.