Stonehenge in in Wiltshire, England. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Plans to build a tunnel underneath Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, may jeopardize its status as a World Heritage Site. The prestigious designation, granted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), supports the preservation of culturally significant sites around the world.

Last November, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps approved a £1.7 billion (~$2.2 billion) construction project that will convert the nearby single-lane A303 road into a two-lane tunnel under Stonehenge to improve congestion, clear heavy traffic, and help prevent car accidents. But numerous critics of the controversial plan — from the environmental organization Greenpeace to the advocacy group Stonehenge Alliance — fear damage to the surrounding landscape and to possible archaeological artifacts yet to be excavated near the Neolithic stone circle.

UNESCO’s recent statements put further pressure on the UK government to address some of these concerns, noting that “the approved A303 improvement scheme is a potential threat to the
property” and “could have deleterious effects” on the site’s OUV, or Outstanding Universal Value.

“The proposed tunnel length remains inadequate to protect the OUV of the property,” said the World Heritage Committee during a session yesterday, June 21. “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.”

Stonehenge was added to the World Heritage List in 1986, meeting three of UNESCO’s 10 criteria: it represents “a masterpiece of human creative genius”; exhibits an important exchange of human values; and bears important testimony to a cultural tradition or civilization.

UNESCO has asked that the UK government send an updated report on the state of conservation of the site by February 2022 for examination by the committee at its 45th session, “with a view to considering the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger” if the A303 route plan is not modified.

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...