Legal action launched on Stonehenge road decision

Avatar for Kate Fielden
By Kate Fielden
30th November 2020

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site [1], a new organisation set up by The Stonehenge Alliance [2], has instructed counsel and Leigh Day to investigate the lawfulness of the Secretary of State’s decision [3] to approve the A303 Stonehenge dual carriageway.  A letter is being sent today (Friday 27th) to the Department for Transport outlining its concerns.

To make this possible, campaigners are launching an appeal on CrowdJustice [4] to raise £50,000 to cover the initial costs of the legal action, which will go live at 6am on Monday.

The decision by Grant Shapps to approve the road on 12 November, despite a recommendation by the Examination Panel that it be refused [5], sent shock waves around the world.

Tom Holland, Stonehenge Alliance President, expressed his backing for the legal action:

I fully back the move to test whether Grants Shapps acted legally in approving this highly wasteful and destructive road scheme. The Government has ignored advice from both UNESCO [6] and the independent panel who presided over a six-month examination. To have won the arguments based on reason and evidence, and then to have them overruled on a ministerial whim, shows just how broken the roads approval process is.

“I urge everyone who cares about the Stonehenge World Heritage Site to support this legal action. There is still a chance to stop the bulldozers moving in and vandalising our most precious and iconic prehistoric landscape.


  1. Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site is a company established by the Stonehenge Alliance to take forward the legal action.
  2. The Stonehenge Alliance supporter-organisations are: Ancient Sacred Landscape Network; Campaign to Protect Rural England; Friends of the Earth; Rescue; the British Archaeological Trust; and Transport Action Network.
  3. Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site is being represented by Rowan Smith of Leigh Day LLP (solicitors) and David Wolfe Q.C. of Matrix Chambers and Victoria Hutton of 39 Essex Chambers.
  4. The crowdfunder will be on the CrowdJustice website and will go live on 06:00hrs, Monday 30 November, 2020, titled Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site
  5. The decision and supporting documents can be found on the Planning Inspectorate website
  6. UNESCO World Heritage Committee Decision 2019
  7. The Stonehenge Alliance’s Summary of Case at the 2019 Examination into the road scheme can be accessed via the National Infrastructure Planning website

Leigh Day’s Initial Perspective

Leigh Day has sent a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who gave the go-ahead for the eight-mile road project that includes the tunnel, putting him on notice of potential legal action. The department will be asked to respond within 10 days, and any judicial review will need to be started by 24 December.

Mr Shapps authorised the Wiltshire road project despite the recommendation of five expert inspectors, the Examining Authority (ExA) who examined the application by Highways England for the Amesbury to Berwick Down Development Consent Order under section 37 of the Planning Act 2008.

Mr Shapps agreed with the ExA that the development will harm spatial, visual relations and settings on the 4,000-year-old World Heritage Site, but concluded that the level of harm would not be substantial and would be outweighed by the public benefit.

At the public inquiry, the Stonehenge Alliance and a number of other parties argued that the World Heritage Site ought to be treated as a single heritage asset and protected in its entirety. However, Mr Shapps is reportedly satisfied the Development has been designed to accord with the National Planning Policy Statement for National Networks (NPS) and that reasonable mitigation has been included to minimise harm to the landscape.

SSWHS argues in its letter that Mr Shapps adopted an unlawful approach to the consideration of harm to heritage, his reliance on the advice of Historic England was misplaced, the reasons for his conclusion on heritage harm were inadequate and unintelligible, and his actions are in breach of the World Heritage Convention (WHC).

The group says the NPS, the policy basis that the Secretary of State must use when making decisions for nationally significant infrastructure projects, is clearly directed at preservation of the heritage asset.

The group says the WHC does not allow for a cost-benefit approach to the assessment of harm and that it is irrational to conclude that the physical destruction of one part of the 4,000-year-old World Heritage Site can be offset by possible future benefits to other parts of the site.

Leigh Day solicitor, Rowan Smith, said:

“Our client believes that there is a legal case to be made that the Secretary of State unlawfully assessed the harm that is going to be inflicted on a 4,000-year-old and much cherished World Heritage Site, deciding instead that such destruction is a price worth paying for the economic benefits and faster road travel times that may accrue in the future.

For more information contact Leigh Day press office at

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