Activists stage ‘mass trespass’ at Stonehenge to oppose government’s controversial £1.7bn tunnel

Katie Anderson
·3-min read
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps approved the scheme in November, overruling the recommendations of planning officials (AFP via Getty Images)
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps approved the scheme in November, overruling the recommendations of planning officials (AFP via Getty Images)

Demonstrators have descended on Stonehenge in a “mass trespass” to protest the government's plans to dig a two-mile tunnel under the monument, as well as its £27 billion roads programme.

The group, who described themselves as an alliance of ecologists, local residents, activists, archaeologists and pagans, culminated at the prehistoric Wiltshire site on Saturday.

They are rallying against the government's planned investment in the cross-country strategic road network, as well as a controversial £1.7 billion plan to dig a road that will tunnel under the World Heritage site.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps approved the scheme in November, overruling the recommendations of planning officials, who warned it will be of detriment to Stonehenge.

The Planning Inspectorate had recommended Mr Shapps withhold consent, but the DfT said that the benefits of the scheme outweighed the potential harm.

The road improvements, expected to begin 2023, are intended to widen traffic bottlenecks on the A303. It’s a major route to southwest England that is often severely congested on the single carriageway stretch near the stones.

Protesters said they also gathered in support of Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS), a new organisation set up by supporters of the Stonehenge Allaince.

SSWHS launched a legal challenge to Mr Shapps' decision and is fundraising to pay for legal action. In its letter to Mr Shapps, the organisation said the proposals were in breach of Unesco’s world heritage convention.

Mr Shapps admitted the development will cause harm to the 4,000-year-old site, but concluded it would not be significant and would be outweighed by the public benefit.

Environmental activist Dan Hooper, known as Swampy, said: “This is the coming together of people who are saying we have had enough.

“The Stonehenge tunnel is just one scheme in a £27 billion roads programme.

“As road transport is the single largest source of carbon emissions in the UK, this is insane.”

“The government is ignoring the uncomfortable but very real truth that time is running short. Now is a critical time to rethink our connection with nature."

Highways England said its two-mile tunnel project will enhance the site by removing the sight and sound of traffic, and cut journey times.

But some environmentalists, archaeologists and druids have voiced their opposition to the plan due to its potential impact on the area.

Simon Bramwell, a pagan, described the site as “hallowed ground” and said the cost of the scheme would “be better spent elsewhere”.

“We are here today to reclaim our heritage,” Mr Bramwell said.

"Stonehenge has stood for 5,000 years as a testament to the strength, belief and commitment of our people to this land of ours.

“After the sacrifices of the First World War, it was gifted to the British public and we are here today to take it back.”

Mr Bramwell said the tunnel will “effectively screen Stonehenge” off from people who cannot afford admission prices.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said Stonehenge was shut to the public on Saturday due to the protest but is expected to reopen “as normal” on Sunday.

“It is an offence under the Ancient Monuments Act (1979) for people to enter the monument area without English Heritage's permission,” she said.

“Whilst we respect people's right to demonstrate peacefully, we do not condone behaviour that disrupts and endangers the site and the people who visit or work here.”

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