MINISTERS WILL seek Lottery cash to pay for the £125M trunk road tunnel beneath Stonehenge it emerged this week.
And the use of Lottery money looks set to be extended to other road schemes when expensive environmental measures are needed to preserve national heritage sites.
Roads Minister Lord Whitty confirmed on Tuesday: 'If there are other schemes where the heritage authorities feel that the road system could help improve the quality of a heritage site then certainly we would talk to them about it.'
He was speaking after giving the go ahead to the Stonehenge scheme on the basis that it would be two thirds funded by the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions and one third funded from other 'heritage sources'. These are expected to include cash from Department of Culture Media & Sport, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Although the exact make up of the heritage contribution has yet to be decided this would see the Government applying for a Lottery grant.
Plans for the project are set out in the DETR's roads review document A new deal for trunk roads in England, published last week. The project is one of 37 priority schemes worth £1.4bn on which work is due to start within seven years.
In the document DETR says that the Stonehenge project is 'too expensive to warrant priority within our targeted programme of improvements if it were to be assessed solely in terms of transport benefits and funded entirely from the Roads Vote.
'However, looked at under our new approach to appraisal, the heritage and environmental benefits of returning Stonehenge to something like its original setting can be seen alongside the transport benefits.'
Lord Whitty defended the scheme: 'It is not a raiding of another department's budget; it is a use of that budget for what they (the Culture Department) see as their own purposes'. He justified the use of heritage money for the project on the grounds that Stonehenge was an exceptional heritage site.
'Stonehenge is probably the greatest international heritage site the country has. It is therefore a priority for heritage purposes and the Department of Culture and English Heritage have both felt it meets their priorities to put money into the scheme.
'It also meets our priorities in the sense that we need to improve the traffic flow in that area and between us we have come up with a scheme which meets both of our objectives and avoids any serious damage to the environment and archaeological sites,' he said.
But ICE Council member Terry Mulroy questioned the use of Lottery cash to pay for work normally included within the scope of roads schemes.
'If a road scheme is required then the necessary environmental protection should be applied to the cost of that scheme,' he said. 'The Government is clearly abrogating its responsibility for the environmental impact of traffic.'
Charities eligible for Lottery funds were reluctant to comment publicly on the use of the funds to pay for a public road schemes. They feared future applications for money could be undermined by negative comments about the allocation of cash.