Campaigners Criticise Progress of Project
The controversial tunnel under Stonehenge was dubbed "the new Bath Spa" by campaigners yesterday after the cost of the project soared to £223million. The Department for Transport (DfT) said the previous figure of £193million had ignored the cost of buying and preparing the land for the tunnel, designed to hide the A303, which passes near the ancient Wiltshire monument.
Stonehenge campaigners said the project was looking more and more like the disastrously overpriced Bath Spa and Millennium Dome projects.
The cost of the mile-long tunnel was originally put at £183million in 2002, but Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman yesterday said "some further increase in costs is now anticipated".
The "Save Stonehenge" group said delays and price increases could lead Ministers to abandon plans for the road altogether.
And druid leader King Arthur Pendragon - who led a pagan service at the monument at Tuesday's solstice festival - warned that the "biggest protest in Europe" would be staged if the Government rejected the tunnel in favour of a cheaper option.
He said the Government could opt for a "cut and cover" tunnel, which would involve sinking the road then adding a roof, rather than boring a tunnel.
"If the Government did that, it would devastate so much archaeology - they could expect the biggest protest in Europe, " he said.
"Stonehenge is up there with the pyramids in Egypt for cultural significance, so they have to get it right. But they also have to get on with it - the longer they take the more it will cost and the less chance they will build the road at all.
"It is being handled like the Millennium Dome - needless bureaucracy making what is already a very expensive project into an unattainable one."
Chris Woodford, of Save Stonehenge, said: "It is increasingly likely the Government will not approve the tunnel. If the price goes up much more it will simply not be affordable. You can imagine the Government thinking this is a Millennium Dome-type white elephant and giving up on the project."
The planning inspector's report on last year's public inquiry into the road was completed in January, but the DfT has still to decide whether to approve the tunnel.
Added to this, plans for a new £57million visitor centre have been submitted to Salisbury District Council by English Heritage. These are the subject of another planning inquiry, but if DfT rejects the tunnel then there is no hope for the visitor centre.
Terence Meaden, of the Stonehenge Society, said the bureaucracy was holding up the project and adding to the cost.
He said: "Nowadays, everybody gets consulted and there are so many bodies and committees sticking their noses in. There are similarities with the Bath Spa situation."
But David Batchelor, an archaeologist for English Heritage, played down concerns about the project. He said: "It would be nice if the process went forward faster, but it takes time and we have to accept that."
article at the Western Daily Press website
Posted by Rhiannon
25th June 2005ce
Edited 10th February 2006ce