Transport secretary Grant Shapps was found to have made a “material error of law” over his controversial road building plans that include a tunnel near Stonehenge.
In a court ruling on Friday, Shapps’ decision to approve the £1.7bn scheme to overhaul eight miles of the A303 and build a two-mile tunnel near Stonehenge was ruled “unlawful” on two grounds.
First, the judge ruled there was a “material error of law” in Shapps’ decision-making process when he approved the project, owing to the lack of any evidence that the impact on each individual asset at the historic site was taken into account in the plans.
Second, the judge ruled that the transport secretary’s failed to consider any alternative road schemes, as required by the World Heritage Convention and common law.
“In this case the relative merits of the alternative tunnel options compared to the western cutting and portals were an obviously material consideration which the (Transport Secretary) was required to assess,” Mr Justice Holgate said.
“It was irrational not to do so. This was not merely a relevant consideration which the (Transport Secretary) could choose whether or not to take into account.
“I reach this conclusion for a number of reasons, the cumulative effect of which I judge to be overwhelming.”
The court case was brought and won by the Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) campaigner group, whose director said they could “not be more pleased” about the outcome of the challenge.
“The Stonehenge Alliance has campaigned from the start for a longer tunnel if a tunnel should be considered necessary,” SSWHS director John Adams said.
“Ideally, such a tunnel would begin and end outside the World Heritage Site. But now that we are facing a climate emergency, it is all the more important that this ruling should be a wake-up call for the Government.
“It should look again at its roads programme and take action to reduce road traffic and eliminate any need to build new and wider roads that threaten the environment as well as our cultural heritage.”
Rowan Smith, a Leigh Day solicitor who represented the campaigners, said, “the Government will have to go back to the drawing board before a new decision can be made.
“Meanwhile, one of the country’s most cherished heritage assets cannot be harmed.”
The proposed tunnel is part of a £1.7bn investment in the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down, and due to its classification as “nationally significant”, requires a development consent order in order to go ahead.