Stonehenge road scheme public inquiry: fair or foul?
Tuesday 17 February sees the opening of a public inquiry into the British government's proposal to construct a new four-lane road through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site . Some people see this as an opportunity for public comment and debate on the controversial plan. Campaign group Save Stonehenge  argues that the inquiry will simply "rubber stamp" a decision to construct the road that was made several years ago.
Far from being an opportunity for debate, public inquiries into road schemes are one of the very final stages of a lengthy planning process set out in the Highways Act 1980. Despite years of public argument over contentious road schemes, costly protests at places such as Twyford Down and Newbury, and endless Government papers and consultations, the basic road planning process remains just as undemocratic as it was more than 25 years ago. In the mid-1990s, Alarm UK, the network of British community groups formed to fight road schemes, reported that, since 1989, public inquiries had found against road schemes in only five out of 146 cases (and 3 of those cases were later overruled by the Secretary of State for Transport) .
According to Save Stonehenge, the Stonehenge inquiry is a similarly foregone conclusion. A contract to design, build, and construct the road was awarded in March 2002 -- two years before the public inquiry into whether that same scheme should even proceed.
A spokesman for Save Stonehenge commented:
"This will be a fair inquiry but it won't be a fair outcome. People should have no illusions about democracy: this inquiry is designed to rubber-stamp a decision made years ago."
"The public inquiry system being used at Stonehenge is exactly the same one that gave us such massively destructive roads as Twyford Down and the Newbury bypass. The British road-planning system is undemocractic and fundamentally flawed. It is a government stitch up from start to finish. No-one should be in any doubt: this inquiry will find for the road. If by some miracle it does not, the Government will overrule its outcome and see that it does."
Save Stonehenge: http://www.savestonehenge.org.uk
Planning Inspectorate: http://www.planning-inspectorate.gov.uk/stonehenge/index.htm
The Stonehenge Project: http://www.thestonehengeproject.org
Notes to editors:
- The plan is to upgrade the A303 to a four-lane dual carriageway at Stonehenge, the central part of which will be constructed in a bored tunnel.
- Save Stonehenge was formed in 1999. It has a mailing list of 1500 supporters and its website attracts visits from more than 30 different countries, reflecting international concern in the issue.
- Quoted in: Alarm UK Briefing sheets, 1994. Also mentioned on http://www.web.net/~detour/tm/ukaction.html