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Five options for Stonehenge roads

The circular monument of massive stones in Wiltshire, lies between two busy roads, one carrying up to 33,000 vehicles a day.

india Updated: Jan 23, 2006 12:04 IST

The government published five options for road schemes around the ancient British monument of Stonehenge on Monday, including a tunnel under the site rejected as too expensive last year.

The circular monument of massive stones in Wiltshire, southwest England, lies between two busy roads, one carrying up to 33,000 vehicles a day.

Conservationists and government agencies responsible for the site have for years been seeking a way of reducing or diverting the traffic to improve the monument's immediate surroundings.

Built between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC as a temple, burial ground, astronomical calendar or all three, the stone circle has been described as "Britain's pyramids".

Tourists are drawn to Stonehenge throughout the year and on the summer solstice -- the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere -- up to 30,000 revellers and druids converge there for a night of celebration.

Since 1991, some 50 alternative road routes have been considered, culminating in government approval in 2002 for a scheme to reroute traffic from the busy A303 through a two kilometre tunnel bored under the stone circle.

However, Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman rejected this option in July last year after a public inquiry, saying it was too expensive.

As well as the bored tunnel, the five options published for public consultation by the Highways Agency on Monday include:

-- A "cut and cover" tunnel, first rejected in 2002

-- New roads further to the north or south of the monument

-- A "partial solution" which would retain the A303 but shut the smaller A344 road passing the north side of the monument.

Conservationists say the tunnel and new road proposals would all cut through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, damaging a 10-square-mile (26 sq km) area containing over 400 prehistoric monuments.

Archaeologist Kate Fielden, of Stonehenge Alliance, an umbrella body of conservation groups, said the best solution would be a 4.5 km tunnel going under the entire World Heritage site, an option itself rejected on cost grounds in 1996.

A final report based on the consultation is due to be submitted to ministers by early summer 2006.

First Published: Jan 23, 2006 12:04 IST