Tuesday, September 22, 1998 Published at 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
Stonehenge tunnel runs into trouble
Stonehenge: Wrangles over 'car-free' zone
A plan to create a car-free zone around Stonehenge by building a shallow tunnel through the countryside has been described as a "barbaric abomination" by archaeologists.
In July, Culture Secretary Chris Smith ended 15 years of wrangling when he approved the proposal to take traffic away from the site.
The idea is to close the A344 trunk road that runs to the north and bury the A303 trunk road that runs to the south in a shallow, 2km-long 'cut and cover' tunnel.
But opponents claim that English Heritage has caved in to political pressure and is building a 'cut and cover' tunnel costing £120m to save money.
A deep bore tunnel passing well below the Wiltshire site would cost £300m by comparison.
Archaeologists argue that the 'cut and cover' tunnel will damage the wealth of other stone age features that surround Stonehenge, while a deep bore tunnel is the only solution that will not disturb the monuments.
English Heritage, which is responsible for the development of the site, said the tunnel will cause "minimal damage".
Spokesman Geoffrey Wainwright said: "It is total nonsense to say a great deal of archaeological damage will be done.
"The tunnel is for the greater good. You have to compromise."
"It was only four years ago that English Heritage and the National Trust were saying it was their solemn duty to do the exact opposite and build a deep bore tunnel."
The Treasury is only funding two-thirds of the project and Mr Smith has still to find the remaining finance.
Even if he succeeds, he still has to put the tunnel project and a plan for a badly-needed new visitors' centre before a planning inquiry, which could decide to throw them out.
Mr Smith travelled to Wiltshire on Tuesday to consult with local government representatives and interest groups in an attempt to bolster support for the plan.
Stonehenge is a World Heritage site, placing it on a par with the Great Wall of China and the pyramids at Giza, in Egypt.
Opinion is divided, but most authorities date the construction of the final phase of Stonehenge to between 3000 and 1600 BC, possibly predating monuments like the Egyptian Sphinx.
Archaeologists have also failed to agree on how the heavy stones were transported from as far away as the Preseli Mountains in south Wales.
It is a feat of engineering that suggests a highly-organised and sophisticated society.
Stonehenge was the last of a series of circular structures on the same site aligned to the rising sun at the midsummer solstice.
Its purpose is unknown, although it has been suggested the site performed the function of a giant calendar.
Its mysterious origins have made it a gathering place for druids and other groups who celebrate the summer solstice.