The government has confirmed it intends to go ahead with the construction of a £1.6 billion road tunnel under Stonehenge, but has moved the planned route by 50 metres.
It will take the A303 underground for 1.8 miles beneath Salisbury Plain, helping to improve road connectivity in the south-west while also reducing the noise pollution currently caused by traffic passing the prehistoric stone circle. It will also mean that the two halves of the 6,500-acre Unesco World heritage Site will be reunited.
However, the route has been altered after protests about the impact of the original plan. As well as potentially disturbing prehistoric burial barrows, it was set to impact on the view of the sunrise at the winter solstice, a moment of great importance to the druids who flock to the site at that time each year. These problems will be resolved by shifting the route.
Speaking about the tunnel, transport secretary Chris Grayling said it will help create jobs and make travelling in the region easier.
He remarked: "This government is taking the big decisions for Britain’s future and this major investment in the south-west will provide a huge boost for the region.
"Quicker journey times, reduced congestion and cleaner air will benefit people locally and unlock growth in the tourism industry.
"The scheme will also support 120,000 extra jobs and 100,000 new homes across the region."
While the Stonehenge tunnel has predictably gained the most attention, it is just one of three government schemes to upgrade the A303 corridor. Others include the dualling of the road between Sparkford and Ilchester and of the A358 between Taunton and Southfields, where the road joins the A303. There will also be a bypass built north of the village of Winterbourne Stoke.
There have been suggestions that the tunnel could lead to Stonehenge losing Unesco World heritage status. However, unlike the Maritime Mercantile City in Liverpool, it is not on the 'endangered' list of sites that could be removed in response to what Unesco considers inappropriate development.