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Tuesday, 10 December, 2002, 17:37 GMT
Stonehenge tunnel approved
An artist's impression of the tunnel
Work is due to have begun by 2005
Plans for a tunnel through hills near Stonehenge in Wiltshire have been approved.

The 1.3-mile tunnel to upgrade the A303 past the famous ring of stones will cost 183m and protect it from heavy traffic, says the government.

It is part of the 5.5bn package of transport improvements announced by Transport Secretary Alistair Darling on Tuesday, which also includes widening the A303 to the west of Stonehenge to Ilminster.

Mr Darling said: "The World Heritage site at Stonehenge will be enhanced and protected by putting the existing road in a bored tunnel, which will improve safety and congestion."

Stonehenge
The tunnel has been widely welcomed

A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth said: "The tunnel is better than ploughing through a road on a bulldozer."

The 183m will be jointly financed by the Highways Agency and heritage sources.

The tunnel is expected to be finished in three years, with work starting by 2005.

Chris Jones, of the Highways Agency, also welcomed the news, saying the tunnel would help restore the landscape.

'World class'

Sir Neil Cossons, chairman of English Heritage, the body that looks after Stonehenge, said the site would now get the dignified setting it deserved.

He said: "The roads are made safer and the core area of the heritage site landscape is reunited."

Arts Minister Tessa Blackstone also welcomed the announcement: "It will make possible the construction of a world class visitor centre."

Junction improvements

But the National Trust was more cautious in its response to the minister's announcement.

A statement said: "The Council of the National Trust has previously agreed that it will press for the longest achievable tunnel past Stonehenge.

"It will be considering all the evidence to assess why the government believes the 1.3-mile tunnel meets that description."

Elsewhere in the South West, plans to improve the junctions on the M4 and M5 around Bristol have also been approved.

Mr Darling also said he would ask the Highways Agency to consider widening the A358 from Ilminster to the M5 as an alternative to building a dual carriage through the Blackdown Hills.


Click here to go to BBC Wiltshire
See also:

10 Dec 02 | England
04 Oct 02 | England
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