New Civil Engineer:

£1.3bn of spending already committed to by National Highways for the Stonehenge Tunnel

Contracts worth £1.3bn have been signed by National Highways for the construction of the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme which has a total estimated capital cost figure of £1.7bn.

Known as the Stonehenge Tunnel, the project will see the construction of a new 12.8km dual carriageway to replace the existing section of A303 that passes the Stonehenge UNESCO World Heritage site. It will include a new 3.3km tunnel that will go beneath the prehistoric landmark.

Research conducted by Tussell, a group that provides insights into government contracting, has now revealed the value of each contract let so far on the scheme as National Highways committed with a £10M deal with security firm High Court Enforcement Group.

The majority of the £1.3bn already committed is for the More joint venture, featuring Spain’s FCC Construcción, Italian firm WeBuild and BeMo Tunnelling from Austria, who National Highways announced as its preferred bidder to build the tunnel in May 2022 under a £1.2bn deal.

The JV will be supported by a design consortium made up of Atkins, Jacobs and Spanish designer Sener.
As well as the planned tunnel, the scheme also includes the construction of a northern bypass of Winterbourne Stoke with a viaduct over the River Till valley, a new junction between the A303 and A360 to the west of the world heritage site to replace the existing Longbarrow roundabout and a new junction between the A303 and A345 at the existing Countess roundabout.

Also receiving a large contract as part of the project, Wessex Archaeology will be paid £35M for its work as archaeological contractors for the scheme which it began in 1998.

Costain and Mott MacDonald were awarded £60M between them as part of a Delivery Assurance Partner contract. The two engineering giants will provide technical and construction management expertise by helping mobilise the main works contractor, oversee construction, assist the discharge of consent requirements and assure the design.

In July, transport secretary Mark Harper granted the development consent order (DCO) for the scheme after considering an updated High Court judgement. The project was initially given approval by former transport secretary Grant Shapps in November 2020, against the Planning Inspectorate’s recommendation, but this was overturned by the High Court who ruled that his decision was “unlawful”.

The DCO went back to the transport secretary for “re-determination” who requested more carbon detail. This resulted in National Highways re-working the application to meet tighter requirements.

As part of the committed spend, National Highways has agreed to pay £18M in legal fees to firm Gowling WLG. A further £13M will be paid to PwC and £2.2M to Turner & Townsend with both contracts for professional services. The plan to construct the Stonehenge Tunnel has sparked widespread controversy. UNESCO has objected to the plans and in August last year called for various alternative options to be considered to protect the heritage of the site.

Opponents of the scheme have suggested that a longer tunnel would help avoid damaging the historic site.

Regardless, National Highways remains committed to the scheme, assuring its chosen tunneling construction method will not cause any harm to the monument.

National Highways project director for the A303 Stonehenge scheme Derek Parody said: “We remain confident this scheme is the best solution for tackling a long-standing traffic bottleneck, improving journeys, bringing much needed relief to local communities and boosting the economy in the south-west.

“Ultimately, by removing the existing road we will return the Stonehenge landscape to something like its original setting.

“It is a scheme objective to conserve and enhance the World Heritage Site and this is being achieved through close collaborative working with heritage groups, the independent A303 Scientific Committee, and our archaeology contractors, who have an extensive track record of work in connection with the Stonehenge landscape.

“We have taken a lot of care to get to this point, the tunnel construction method will prevent any damage to the landscape of the World Heritage Site and we will continue to work with the Heritage Monitoring Advisory Group and experts within the Scientific Committee to ensure the scheme is delivered with heritage and the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site at the heart of every decision made.”

Transport Action Network director and founder Chris Todd is adamant that if the tunnel goes ahead, the site will lose its Unesco heritage status, a claim originally suggested by the UN body itself in 2021.

Todd said:

“The billions being squandered on causing permanent and irreversible harm to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site is an international scandal.

“The site is now at risk of being de-listed by UNESCO, unless the road can once again be stopped by the courts. All this to solve a seasonal traffic jam, when there are many roads around the country that suffer worse congestion every day of the year.

“As the government’s own figures show, building roads does not solve congestion which is predicted to increase with its road building programme.

“We need actual solutions that manage congestion, not discredited 20th century thinking making things worse.”


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