CAMPAIGNERS on both sides of the Stonehenge debate have reacted to the High Court judgement on a controversial £1.7 billion scheme to reduce congestion on the A303.

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site campaigners have won a court battle to prevent the "scandalous" construction of a two-mile road tunnel near the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Highways England project aimed to reduce A303 congestion along an eight-mile stretch between Amesbury and Berwick Down.

But campaigners said it would have a disastrous impact on the 5,000-year-old Neolithic monument and surrounding landscape.

The government approved plans in November for a two-mile tunnel to be created near the stones.

Mr Justice Holgate's ruling means the order granted by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been quashed.

The Department for Transport issued a short statement saying: "We are disappointed in the judgment and are considering it carefully before deciding how to proceed."

John Adams, SSWHS's director and acting chairman of the Stonehenge Alliance, said: "We could not be more pleased about the outcome of the legal challenge.

"The Stonehenge Alliance has campaigned from the start for a longer tunnel, if a tunnel should be considered necessary.

“Ideally, such a tunnel would begin and end outside the World Heritage Site. But now that we are facing a climate emergency, it is all the more important that this ruling should be a wake-up call for the government.

"It should look again at its roads programme and take action to reduce road traffic and eliminate any need to build new and wider roads that threaten the environment as well as our cultural heritage."

Wiltshire druid, King Arthur Pendragon, also welcomed the judgement, saying: “They have been weighed and measured and have come up short. Now let’s see what they do next. All they have done is kicked it into the long grass.

“We have opposed this plan because the tunnel will be entered and exited on the World Heritage Site. It is not rocket science, it’s going to ruin the World Heritage Site.”

He added: “You can’t buy archaeology and you can’t buy sacredness. It does not work that way.”

Highways England wanted to improve the A303 to reduce traffic and cut journey times. The road is often severely congested with thousands of motorists travelling daily between the South East and South West.

The Government gave the go-ahead to the scheme last November despite advice from Planning Inspectorate officials who said it would cause “permanent, irreversible harm” to the World Heritage Site.

Archaeologists and environmentalists also voiced opposition to the scheme due to its potential impact on the Stonehenge circle and the wider landscape.

The project is classed as nationally significant, which means the Government cannot go ahead with a development without a consent order.

In his ruling, the judge found Mr Shapps' decision was "unlawful" on two grounds.

He found there was a "material error of law" in the government's decision-making process as there was no evidence of the impact on each individual asset at the site.

He also said Mr Shapps had failed to consider alternative schemes, in accordance with the World Heritage Convention and common law.

In 2020, Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site crowdfunded the £50,000 needed to bring a judicial review at the High Court.

SSWHS argued Mr Shapps did not properly consider the damage that would be done to a number of prehistoric sites and ancient artefacts, and that his approach to the World Heritage Convention was unlawful.

Highways England said the planned tunnel would remove the sight and sound of traffic passing the site and had aimed to start work on it in 2023. The project is now likely to be frozen while the Department of Transport considers its options.

Its acting chief executive, Nick Harris, said: "We still believe our project is the best solution to the ongoing issues along the A303 past Stonehenge and was developed after a long and extensive collaboration with our key stakeholders."

Historic England was also disappointed with the judgement. A spokesperson said: “This is a missed opportunity to remove the intrusive sight and sound of traffic past the iconic monument and to reunite the remarkable Stonehenge landscape, which has been severed in two by the busy A303 trunk road for decades.

“We believe that the scheme had the potential to deliver a lasting positive legacy for the World Heritage Site and we advised on a rigorous programme of archaeological investigation to ensure the impact on sensitive archaeological remains was minimised.

“Stonehenge is one of the most important prehistoric landscapes in the world and has been of deep significance to people for over 5,000 years.

“We will continue to work with partners in the heritage sector and to advise Highways England on any proposals for the A303.”

Some campaigners were disappointed with the outcome. Janice Hassett, of the Stonehenge Traffic Action Group, warned it would mean more vehicles using nearby villages such as Shrewton if there were traffic problems on the A303.

She said: “If the road is to be amended, it will have to go back to the drawing board and that will put us back by another ten years. The tunnel may have to be longer.

“At this time of year, the A303 gets very busy and people try to avoid it. Who can blame them because they will end up coming through Shrewton.

“The High Street is too narrow. It cannot take the traffic. It’s too dangerous. Whatever happens, we need the A303 to be fixed so that there is less traffic through the villages.”