Ruling describes most parts of challenge as ‘unarguable’ in latest court hearing into long-running saga

Campaigners have lost a second High Court challenge against plans to build a £1.7bn road tunnel near Stonehenge.

Justice Holgate yesterday described most parts of a case bought by Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) as “unarguable” in the latest hearing of a long-running saga over the controversial scheme.

The 3.2km tunnel between Amesbury and Berwick Down aims to reduce traffic and journey times on the A303 road but passes close to the 5,000-year-old monument, a Unesco world heritage site.

Stonehenge tunnel 2023

The tunnel will pass close to Stonehenge, a Unesco world heritage site

It was first approved by the government in 2020 but quashed by the High Court the following year after a campaign by locals.

Transport secretary Mark Harper then reapproved the plans last July despite admitting the scheme would cause “harm” to the world heritage site.

SSWHS bought its second bid to the High Court in December, arguing it would “destroy” around seven hectares of the area surrounding Stonehenge and mark the “first step” towards being delisted by Unesco.

In a 50-page ruling, Justice Holgate said ministers had “rightly focused on the relevant policies” and that the campaigners’ evidence “provides no basis for undermining that conclusion”.

Three European contractors have been chosen to build the tunnel under a joint venture called MORE, comprised of Spanish firm FCC, Italy’s WeBuild and BeMo Tunnelling from Austria.

The international consortium beat competition from two other shortlisted joint ventures – HDJV, comprising Hochtief Infrastructure GmbH and Dragados SA, and MJV, which was composed of Bouygues Travaux Publics SAS and J Murphy & Sons – in May 2022.

Mace has also won a cost consultancy role on the tunnel, and a joint venture between Costain and Mott MacDonald has been awarded a £60m job as delivery assurance partner on the scheme.

A Costain team featuring Balfour Beatty was down to build the new road more than 15 years ago but the pair’s contract was terminated in December 2007 when those proposals were withdrawn by the then Labour government.