Druids, pagans, environmentalists and archaeologists gathered outside the High Court today for the start of a two-day hearing which they say could lead to the “desecration” of one of the world’s most important monuments. most famous in Great Britain: Stonehenge.
Campaigners are making a second attempt at the High Court to try to block a £1.7 billion project to overhaul eight miles of the A303 in Wiltshire, which will include a two-mile tunnel.
In written submissions on Tuesday, David Wolfe KC, of Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS), said the project would be the first step towards “delisting” the UNESCO world heritage site.
He said it is not just in monetary terms, but also in terms of research value, cultural significance, iconic value and reputation of the UK as showing the world that it cares for its site World Heritage Site and complies with its obligations under the World Heritage Convention.
He also said the approved project would “destroy” around seven hectares of the world heritage site, a change that would be “permanent and irreversible”.
Outside, campaigners gathered in the rain in central London, holding signs reading “Save Stonehenge” and reiterating UNESCO’s advice to the government that the project “should not continue under its current form.
King Arthur Pendragon, a druid dressed in white robes and wearing a silver crown, told The Independent the roadworks would “destroy so much archaeology” and called the government’s support for the project “arrogant”.
“If this goes ahead, this project will have irreparable consequences for the environment of Stonehenge and has been advised by several different official bodies not to do it and it will destroy a lot of archaeology,” he said.
“Regardless of that, it will ruin views that you can’t replace, that is, where the sun sets in the middle of winter, the winter solstice is where their portal will be , so their light pollution will make it impossible to see the sun there again. .”
Lorien Cadier, 71, traveled to London from her home in Wellow, Hampshire, which she shares with her husband Paul Cadier, 74.
She said Stonehenge was something “very close to our hearts in British culture” and added: “There’s something less known: there’s a spring near Stonehenge called Blick Mead, which is the reason for which Neolithic people went to Stonehenge. The spring never freezes and this tunnel means that this spring will dry up.
Near the retired couple, Charlotte Pulver holds a small bowl containing water from the spring, which activists say risks being destroyed if the project continues.
The 45-year-old, from Hastings, said: “Blick Mead is considered the birthplace of Stonehenge. Stonehenge exists thanks to this source and the site surrounding it. It predates Stonehenge itself by 6,000 years.
She added: “This site is so valuable and if the tunnel were to continue this site would be absolutely destroyed, so they say ‘oh it’s just the henge and it won’t be damaged by the tunnel’, but this very site important will be destroyed.”
In court, Mr Wolfe argued the government had “unlawfully considered alternatives” to the project, adding that campaigners believed National Highways had provided “fundamentally flawed” information about them, which “failed to recognize damage caused to heritage” and were based on an “erroneous analysis of probable traffic figures for the A303”.
He said the government’s approach included “no expert review of the evidence”, with the project being “managed entirely by civil servants”.
Mr Wolfe said campaigners preferred a project with a “longer bored tunnel” or a “surface route” – saying the latter would be “materially cheaper”, costing around £400 million less on the basis calculations from 2017.
National Highways says its plan for the tunnel will remove the sight and sound of traffic passing through the site and reduce travel times.
James Strachan KC, of the DfT, said in written arguments there was “no inadequacy” in a ministerial briefing on the “hypothetical” risk of delisting a world heritage site.
“The world heritage site has not been delisted nor is it said that it will be delisted if the project continues,” he said.
The lawyer said the government had concluded the project was “in line with the UK’s obligations” under the World Heritage Convention and would work with advisory bodies to “minimize harm”.
He said the minister had “all the appropriate expertise to make his decision”, which was “fully consistent” with legal requirements and “objectively fair”.
He added that the minister had “sufficient elements to reach the overall conclusion that the heritage benefits of the alternatives were not sufficient to offset the cost, delays and other disadvantages linked to their implementation”.
Grant Shapps, then transport secretary, first gave the project the go-ahead in November 2020, despite advice from Planning Inspectorate officials that it would cause “permanent and irreversible damage” to the area.
The SSWHS Alliance successfully challenged its decision in the High Court.
The site of Stonehenge, along with Avebury, was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site of Outstanding Universal Value in 1986 due to the size of the megaliths, the sophistication of their concentric plans and the complexes of Neolithic sites and monuments and the bronze age.
The hearing before Judge Holgate is scheduled to conclude on Thursday and a decision is expected at a later date.
This article is originally published on .nouvelles-du-monde.com