Museums & Heritage

Unesco warns that Stonehenge will go on its danger list unless plans to build tunnel beneath it are modified

World Heritage Site status may also be removed from Liverpool's waterfront after excessive development

Stonehenge’s status as a world heritage site will be under threat if plans for the tunnel remain in place

Unesco has warned that Stonehenge could be put on its list of World Heritage sites in danger if plans to build a tunnel under the prehistoric site in Wiltshire are not modified. Unesco’s warning comes on the eve of a judicial review scheduled to take place at the High Court in London from 23 to 25 June which will examine the UK government’s decision to greenlight the 3.3-kilometre tunnel. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, approved the £1.7bn redevelopment project last November.

Stonehenge’s status as a world heritage site will be under threat if plans for the tunnel remain in place, says the Times. The High Court hearing in London will also influence Unesco’s decision. “It is recommended that the [World Heritage] committee consider the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger in the event that DCO consent [development consent order] was confirmed by the High Court. Such a decision would exacerbate this threat,” says Unesco in a report published yesterday.

Unesco adds: “The proposed tunnel length remains inadequate to protect the OUV (outstanding universal value) of the property. As both the 2018 World Heritage Centre/Icomos advisory mission and, subsequently, the [World Heritage} Committee have advised, a longer tunnel section… is required in order to avoid highly adverse and irreversible impact on OUV, particularly on the integrity of the property.”

The government company known as the Highways Agency announced last November that it will move ahead with plans to build a tunnel diverting traffic away from the ancient site. The new reconfiguration involves rerouting the A303 road, which runs near Stonehenge into a new dual-carriageway tunnel while the current A303 will be turned into a public walkway. “It is regretted that for such an iconic World Heritage property, the argument persists that the perceived benefits of a longer tunnel do not outweigh the costs.” Unesco adds.

Unesco says it will consider the status of Stonehenge at its 45th session in 2022 with a view to considering the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger if the A303 route upgrade scheme is not modified. The World Heritage committee has called on the government to provide an update on its plans for Stonehenge by February next year.

Unesco also says that Liverpool waterfront should be removed from its list of World Heritage Sites after warning repeatedly that it is concerned about excessive development at the historic UK city port.

The waterfront was listed as “at risk” in 2012 when the Liverpool Waters regeneration scheme, which will transform the Northern Docklands area of the city, was launched. The £5bn project involves building a number of high-rise developments which blight the area, says Unesco.

Another new development, Everton’s football ground at Bramley Moore Dock, added to the "ascertained threat of further deterioration and loss of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property".

Robert Jenrick, the UK’s communities secretary, tweeted that this was a “disappointing move by Unesco” and that Unesco should support imaginative urban regeneration. Dan Hicks, a curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum and professor of contemporary archaeology at the University of Oxford, responded: “Hang on is it ‘Retain and Explain’—or "support imaginative urban regeneration"?

A final decision will be made when Unesco confirms the sites on its World Heritage list at its conference in China next month. The historic port was granted Unesco world heritage status in 2004. “Six areas in the historic centre and docklands of the maritime mercantile City of Liverpool bear witness to the development of one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries,” says Unesco. The listed areas include Albert Dock, home to Tate Liverpool and the Maritime Museum.

Joanne Anderson, Liverpool's mayor, wrote on Twitter: “A full response will be made via [Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] but our position is clear: we will be asking the committee to defer and review our case over the next 12 months.”