Court Rules A303 scheme unlawful

In 1971, the Conservative Environment SecretaryPeter Walker announced the entire length of the A303 would be upgraded as part of a new roads programme that would deliver 1,000 new miles of motorway by 1980!

Owl remembers that the 1980’s was when Margaret Thatcher insisted that the Ilminster by-pass should be limited to three lanes on cost grounds, despite safety and future-proofing concerns.

Theresa May, in January 2017 said that her government was “committed to creating a dual carriageway on the A303 from the M3 to the M5”.

Now the Tories are in trouble again with the £1.7bn Stonehenge “improvements” programme being declared unlawful. Clearly a number of major issues have been ducked and, once again, we are the victims of bad decision making.

Surely the Government should have regard to ensuring that its proposals didn’t cause permanent harm to the World Heritage Site? We have just lost Liverpool, will Stonehenge be next, and, closer to home, is the Ladram bay section of the Jurassic Coast safe in Carter hands?

Owl posted “Why you won’t be seeing an improved A 303 any time soon” in April last year!

Court Rules A303 scheme unlawful

Local opinion as reported in yesterday’s Western Morning News:

Councillors in the far South West have voiced their dismay after the High Court ruled plans to build an eight-mile road improvement scheme to ease the bottleneck at Stonehenge were unlawful.

As reported in Saturday’s Western Morning News, campaigners on Friday won a High Court battle over Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to approve a controversial road project which includes a tunnel near Stonehenge.

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) challenged his decision to back the £1.7 billion scheme to overhaul eight miles of the A303, including the two-mile tunnel.

But the Peninsula Transport Group, created to transform transport and boost economic growth in the South West, has said it is disappointed at the news and will back the Department of Transport if it challenges the ruling.

The group, which represents local authorities responsible for highways in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, had supported the plans as a way to improve journeys to and from the Westcountry.

Peninsula Transport chair Councillor Andrea Davis said: “Peninsula Transport remains firmly of the view that the A303 Stonehenge scheme is essential to delivering much needed improvements to the A303/A358/A30 corridor. The investment for this scheme is essential to the economic performance of the South West peninsula.

“We will be closely examining the judicial review report, and urging the government to ensure that any lessons that can be learnt will be done so quickly, as well as aiming to minimise the effect the results may have on other schemes in the region.

“Whilst the result of the judicial review is a disappointment, we will continue to support the Department for Transport and Highways England to ensure that they can deliver end-to-end improvement along this essential travel corridor.”

The go-ahead for the scheme was given in November last year, despite advice from Planning Inspectorate officials that it would cause “permanent, irreversible harm” to the Unesco World Heritage Site in Wiltshire.

In his ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Holgate found the decision was “unlawful” on two grounds.

He concluded that there was a “material error of law” in the decision-making process because there was no evidence of the impact on each individual asset at the historic site.

He also found that Mr Shapps failed to consider alternative schemes, in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and common law.

The judge said: “The relevant circumstances of the present case are wholly exceptional.

“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.

“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.”

John Adams, SSWHS director and acting chairman of the Stonehenge Alliance, said: “We could not be more pleased about the outcome of the legal challenge.

“The Stonehenge Alliance has campaigned from the start for a longer tunnel if a tunnel should be considered necessary.

“Ideally, such a tunnel would begin and end outside the WHS. 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.”

Solicitor Rowan Smith, for the campaigners, said: “This is a huge victory, which means, for now, Stonehenge is safe. The judgment is a clear vindication of our client’s tremendous efforts in campaigning to protect the World Heritage Site.” She said ministers would have to go back to the drawing board.