Stonehenge could follow Liverpool in losing its UNESCO world heritage site if A303 plan goes ahead


Stonehenge could become the latest heritage site in the UK to lose its UNESCO status as a £1.7bn Government plan to build a new road and tunnel there could threaten its history, ministers have been told.

The world’s most recognisable rock monument, in Salisbury, is expected to be next in line to face the axe from the UN-backed agency who are said to be considering placing it on its ‘in danger list’.

Stonehenge Avebury and Associated Sites was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1986, meaning has cultural, historical, or scientific value ‘considered to be of outstanding value to humanity’. 

But a Government-backed plot for a new project to build a tunnel under Stonehenge could see Stonehenge stripped of its status.

£1.7bn plans from the Transport Secretary to turn eight miles of the A303 into a dual carriageway, with a two-mile tunnel, were given the go-ahead in November 2020. 

It comes as Liverpool leaders had earlier blasted Unesco bureaucrats on the ‘other side of the world’ who removed the city’s World Heritage Site status after a secret ballot vote.

Stonehenge could be stripped of its World Heritage Status with UNESCO reportedly considering placing it on its 'danger list'

Stonehenge could be stripped of its World Heritage Status with UNESCO reportedly considering placing it on its ‘danger list’

Chris Blandford, chief of World Heritage UK, accused ministers of showing a great ‘reluctance to want to make the most of our World Heritage offer’. 

He told the Guardian: ‘These are places of international significance. They are the best of the best of our cultural heritage. 

‘At a time when we’re out [of the EU] and want to be taken seriously, why not use these incredible assets of such significance to help us do that?’

The committee behind UNESCO’s heritage committee has warned ministers that Stonehenge will be relegated to its ‘danger list’ if plans for the £1.7bn tunnel move ahead.

It comes after Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, ignored planning inspectors and approved a tunnel to turn the A303 into a dual carriageway that runs for two miles under Stonehenge. 

The Unesco heritage committee said ‘the proposed tunnel length remains inadequate to protect the outstanding universal value’. 

Instead, the organisation suggests a longer tunnel with an entrance and exit far enough away from Stonehenge to prevent a ‘highly adverse and irreversible impact’.

It wants the Government to provide an updated plan by February. 

The tunnel is part of a £27billion masterplan to improve the nation's roads, which was announced in March

The tunnel is part of a £27billion masterplan to improve the nation’s roads, which was announced in March

The Unesco heritage committee said 'the proposed tunnel length remains inadequate to protect the outstanding universal value'. Pictured, the controversial plan

The Unesco heritage committee said ‘the proposed tunnel length remains inadequate to protect the outstanding universal value’. Pictured, the controversial plan

Protesters are also fighting the Government's proposal, as a panel of expert inspectors recommended development consent be withheld because the project would substantially and permanently harm the integrity and authenticity of the site

Protesters are also fighting the Government’s proposal, as a panel of expert inspectors recommended development consent be withheld because the project would substantially and permanently harm the integrity and authenticity of the site

Protesters are also fighting the Government’s proposal, as a panel of expert inspectors recommended development consent be withheld because the project would substantially and permanently harm the integrity and authenticity of the site.

In a report to Mr Shapps, officials said permanent, irreversible harm would be caused by construction under the current plans. It said the changes would ‘affect not only our own, but future generations’. 

Internationally, Stonehenge is revered as one of the wonders of the world and is viewed alongside global treasures including the Taj Mahal, Pyramids of Giza and Machu Piccu. 

Other British World Heritage sites 

  • Blaenavon Industrial Landscape (2000) 
  • Blenheim Palace (1987) 
  • Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Church (1988) 
  • Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd (1986) 
  • City of Bath (1987) 
  • Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape (2006) 
  • Derwent Valley Mills (2001) 
  • Durham Castle and Cathedral (1986) 
  • Frontiers of the Roman Empire (1987,2005,2008) 
  • Gorham’s Cave Complex (2016) 
  • Heart of Neolithic Orkney (1999) 
  • Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda (2000) 
  • Ironbridge Gorge (1986) 
  • Jodrell Bank Observatory (2019)  
  • Maritime Greenwich (1997) 
  • New Lanark (2001) 
  • Old and New Towns of Edinburgh (1995) 
  • Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey including Saint Margaret’s Church (1987) 
  • Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal (2009)
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (2003) 
  • Saltaire (2001) 
  • Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites (1986) 
  • Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey (1986) 
  • The English Lake District (2017) 
  • The Forth Bridge (2015) 
  • Tower of London (1988)

Natural 

  • Dorset and East Devon Coast (2001) 
  • Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast (1986) 
  • Gough and Inaccessible Islands (1995,2004) 
  • Henderson Island (1988) 
  • Scottish archipelago of St Kilda (1986,2004, 2005) 

But Stonehenge may not be the UK’s only historic site that’s under UNESCO’s spotlight.

There are fears the site could follow in the footsteps of Liverpool, which recently lost its ‘heritage status’ after a secret UNESCO vote.

The city was named on the World Heritage List in 2004, joining Venice, the Taj Mahal in India and Egypt’s Pyramids because its port was UK’s gateway to the globe for centuries and a symbol of Britain’s trade and influence.

But it was placed on Unesco’s so-called ‘danger list’ – which also features sites in Iraq, Syria and Palestine – after the £5billion Liverpool Waters project to restore the northern docks was approved with a proposed new £500million football ground for Everton on the docks causing further concerns.

And following a secret ballot in Fuzhou, the World Heritage Committee – made up of representatives of 21 countries and led by Xi Jinping’s deputy education minister Tian Xuejun – the ‘Unescocrats’ voted to remove the site from the list, with Guatemala and China rumoured to have voted for, and Norway against, the city’s removal. 

Other monuments in the country that could reportedly face the axe include; The Tower of London, Edinburgh’s old and new towns and Cornwall’s historic mining town.

A spokesperson for the Government said: ‘Protecting the heritage and archaeology of the Stonehenge site is a priority for the government and Highways England and we will continue to work closely with Unesco, Icomos [the International Council on Monuments and Sites] and the heritage and scientific community on next steps.’

The Scottish capital could also be in UNESCO’s crosshairs after local councillors expressed fears that plans for a new ‘bin hub’ on its Georgian streets could ‘desecrate’ the area’s architecture.

A town hall scheme to overhaul bin collections in the historic city could see Edinburgh’s historic gothic architecture ruined, councillors have warned. 

Carol Nimmo, chair of New Town and Broughton Community Council warned: ‘It would be a complete desecration of the streetscape.’

She told the Telegraph: ‘Now we’ve got nothing on the street for six days and 23 hours. 

‘Suddenly, they want these permanent fixtures, literally in front of the houses all the way through these beautiful streets.

‘The Unesco decision on Liverpool has focused minds. 

‘If you read their decision they don’t just talk about the big buildings, they talk about the cumulative effect of smaller decisions. That’s exactly what’s happening here.’

But Karen Doran, Edinburgh Council’s vice convenor, told the Telegraph: ‘We recognise the uniqueness of the World Heritage area and are rightly proud of the special status that this area of Edinburgh holds. 

‘We are confident that we can introduce a more modern and fit-for-purpose waste and recycling service that does not undermine the character of the area.’



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