1.         Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) (C 373bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1986

Criteria  (i)(ii)(iii)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/373/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0
Total amount approved: USD 0
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/373/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds

N/A

Previous monitoring missions

2003 and 2006: World Heritage Centre missions; 2015, 2017, 2018: joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory missions; 2022: joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Advisory mission

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/373/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2023

On 1 February 2022, the State Party submitted a report on the state of conservation of the property and on 1 March 2023, issued an update. Both reports are available at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/373/documents/. Progress on a number of conservation issues addressed by the Committee at its previous sessions is presented in these reports as follows:

There has been significant progress with current reviews of governance of the property and its 2015 Management Plan. The Trust Transition Project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is targeting a long-term funding solution for the Coordination Unit and World Heritage Site Partnership. Transport issues at Avebury are being addressed with guidance from the Avebury World Heritage Site (WHS) Transport Strategy 2015. At Stonehenge, traffic and parking on ‘Byways Open to All Traffic’ continue to affect the landscape setting of monuments and visitor amenity, but this issue may be addressed through the proposed A303 road improvement scheme. Wiltshire Council has commissioned the ‘Stonehenge and Avebury WHS Setting Study’ for development as a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD). The Setting Study will assist in providing an appropriate mechanism to protect the property and its setting. The potential for boundary modification will be reviewed following completion of the SPD. A ‘Stonehenge and Avebury WHS Setting Supplementary Planning Document’ is also in preparation and will take into account the Guidance and Toolkit for Impact Assessments in a World Heritage Context. Wiltshire Council and Historic England are also actively engaged in reviewing the Local Plan. Operations at the property were adversely affected by the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Agri-environment and grassland reversion schemes remain an effective response to protecting sensitive archaeological remains from damage through cultivation. The National Trust has brought additional land under its direct care. New interpretation panels have been installed at the guardianship sites of West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill, The Sanctuary and Windmill Hill. Physical conservation works have occurred on the Stonehenge Lintels, documentation for which was submitted to the World Heritage Centre and reviewed by ICOMOS. A new temporary education centre was constructed as an extension to the ancillary building adjacent to the Stonehenge coach park. A proposal for a new education centre and associated structures is in preparation. The ‘World Heritage Site Condition Survey’ should be completed in 2023.

In March 2020, £1.7 billion (approx. USD 2.1 billion) was allocated by the UK Government towards implementing the A303 road improvement scheme (hereafter ‘Scheme’). This Scheme, developed in close collaboration with UK heritage bodies, proposes a 3.3 km bored tunnel that would remove from view most of the A303 road within the Stonehenge component of the property and offer significant aural and visual improvements. Following a lengthy development programme, including three joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Advisory missions (2015, 2017, 2018), and a series of changes made in response to the Committee’s decisions, the proponent, National Highways, proposed the Scheme which underwent formal examination in 2019 and was recommended for refusal by the Examining Authority in January 2020. The Scheme was initially approved by the Secretary of State for Transport in November 2020. However, the decision to grant the Development Consent Order (DCO) was quashed by the UK High Court in 2021. At the instigation of the State Party, a new joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Advisory mission visited the property in April 2022 to provide further advice in the context of the DCO re-determination.

On 17 July 2023, the State Party transmitted to the World Heritage Centre the decision of the Secretary of State for Transport of 14 July 2023 to grant a DCO for the A303 road improvement scheme. The decision letter of the Secretary of State, which provides the reasons for granting the DCO, refers to the Committee’s decisions and the 2022 Advisory mission’s recommendations. It refers to them mainly to explain that the Scheme has not been modified in accordance with the Committee’ previous decisions and that the 2022 mission key recommendations have not been accepted. In a letter dated 18 July 2023, the World Heritage Centre invited the State Party to provide detailed and precise information on the possibility of introducing changes to the design of the Scheme within the scope of the DCO to respond to the Committee’s Decision 44 COM 7B.61 and the 2022 Advisory mission recommendations. In its reply of 25 July 2023, the State Party stated that the DCO is subject to a six-week period allowing the public to lodge judicial review challenges and that ‘once there is a conclusion to any legal challenge process that may come forward, there will continue to be opportunity for engagement, consultation and collaboration in regard to the scheme and its impact on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). The State Party considers that approval of the Scheme would not pose a threat to the OUV of the property and states that there is potential for design refinements and modifications to be considered as part of the detailed design of the Scheme. According to the decision letter, the assessment of the Secretary of State is that ‘[...] the impacts of the Proposed Development on the historic environment and any harm caused to the WHS when considered as a whole and to any heritage asset would be less than substantial and therefore the adverse impacts of the Proposed Development should be balanced against its public benefits.’

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM

Progress continues to be made with arrangements for management and governance of the property, improving transport at Avebury, initiating the Setting Study, preparation of related planning instruments and guidelines, production of resources for local landowners and addressing long term resourcing through the Trust Transition Project. The conservation works to the Stonehenge lintels are welcome as are the interpretation installations at West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill, the Sanctuary and Windmill Hill. The temporary education centre is a much-needed facility which has been well designed and implemented in a way that does not affect attributes which support the OUV of the property. A proposal for new education facilities has been subject to a Technical Review by ICOMOS. The forthcoming World Heritage Site Condition Survey should also be submitted for review.

The proposed A303 road improvement scheme, for which a DCO was first issued in 2020, contrary to the request of the Committee and the State Party’s own Examining Authority, and which was later quashed by the UK High Court in 2021, remains a threat to the OUV of the property. The grounds for the Court’s decision included matters relating to impacts on heritage assets and the need for consideration of schemes which the Committee has previously requested to be considered, namely further covering of the proposed cutting and/or extending the proposed bored tunnel so that portals are located outside the western boundary of the Stonehenge component of the property, or alternatively re-routing the A303 completely around the property to enable complete removal of surface through traffic from within the Stonehenge component thus minimising negative impacts and enhancing positive benefits for the OUV of the property. The current Scheme is for upgrading the A303 with dual carriageway passing through the property, largely within a tunnel but with significant cuts and open areas of dual carriageway at both ends of the property.

The Committee has made a number of decisions (41 COM 7B.56, 42 COM 7B.32, 43 COM 7B.95 and 44 COM 7B.61) relating to the proposed Scheme and the State Party has made some changes in response. The 2022 Advisory mission reassessed the Scheme in the light of these changes and the High Court Decision, and provided clear findings and recommendations, consistent with the previous decisions of the Committee. The Committee and the 2018 and 2022 Advisory missions have acknowledged that the proposed eastern portal had been positioned in the least impactful location available, which is sufficiently close to the property boundary, taking into account the constraints imposed by the attributes of the property, other significant sites in the vicinity and local topographic and environmental conditions. However, the Committee further recognised that the currently proposed western portal and associated dual carriageway within a cutting would have significant and inappropriate adverse impacts on the physical and visual integrity of the property. This position is consistent with the findings of the 2022 Advisory mission.

Extending the proposed tunnel to the west, beyond the boundary of the property, would enable greater reconnection between the southern and northern sections of the Stonehenge component, an improved setting for the Winterbourne Stoke Group and reduce impacts on the archaeological resources within the property and on its integrity. However, it is recognised that a longer tunnel may be challenging in view of topographic considerations and design options. If the approved Scheme proceeds, the minimum change required would be an extension of the underground section of the western approach (tunnel and/or cut-and-cover) to at least the western boundary of the property. The western portal should be re-located as far to the west as reasonably practical, thereby reducing the length of the cut-and-cover section and minimising the extent of archaeological resources which must be removed. There should also be a comprehensive archaeological salvage and mitigation programme, consistent with best practice standards and approaches. The approved Scheme, if implemented without these changes, will miss a unique and significant opportunity to remove an existing impact and improve some of the attributes that underpin the OUV of the property.

It is therefore profoundly regrettable that the State Party has re-issued a DCO for the A303 road improvement scheme without introducing changes consistent with previous Committee decisions and the advice of the 2022 Advisory mission, requested by the State Party precisely to advise on how to respond to those decisions. It is particularly relevant to note that in Decision 44 COM 7B.61 the Committee found that ‘[…] the approved A303 improvement scheme is a potential threat to the property, which – if implemented – could have deleterious effects on its inherent characteristics, notably to its integrity’; and noted that ‘[…] in the event that DCO consent was confirmed by the High Court, the property warrants the inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger’. Over the years, the Committee and the Advisory Bodies have been clear and consistent that the proposed A303 improvement scheme should not proceed in its current form. It is moreover regrettable that although the Secretary of State considered alternatives to the proposed Scheme, and National Highways has considered the two longer tunnel options, namely a cut-and-cover section at the west of the proposed bored tunnel which would extend the tunnel outside the WHS boundary, and an extension of the bored tunnel to the west so that its portals would be located outside the WHS boundary, the Secretary of State considered that the alternatives would present additional disadvantages, including significant extra costs and delay to the delivery of the proposed development, which would not justify the reduction of harm to heritage assets.

While noting that national and local heritage bodies may continue to provide advice as part of the detailed design process following Scheme’s approval, the scope of their advice, the legal and financial basis for its consideration and the extent of the Committee’s concerns that could still be addressed remain unclear at this stage. At the present time, the A303 road improvement scheme, as approved by the DCO, without the modifications requested consistently by the Committee in its decisions as well as the recommendations of the 2022 Advisory mission, constitutes a potential threat to the OUV of the property, in conformity with Paragraph 179 of the Operational Guidelines. Hence, the Committee may wish to decide to place the property in the List of World Heritage in Danger immediately. However, taking into account the expected judicial review challenges that might be lodged and the subsequent potential judicial review period, and the possibility that the proposed scheme may be modified, it is recommended that the Committee request the State Party to provide to the World Heritage Centre a comprehensive information package on the proposed modifications to the Scheme conforming to the requests by the Committee in its decisions as well as in line with the recommendations of the 2022 Advisory mission. Failing this, it is strongly recommended that the Committee should inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 46th session. It is furthermore recommended that the State Party engage further with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, with a view to preparing a related set of corrective measures, which should include modifying the Scheme, consistent with the Committee’s decisions and informed by the recommendations of the 2022 Advisory mission, to deliver the best available outcome for the OUV of the property for examination by the Committee at its 46th session.  

Decision Adopted: 45 COM 7B.62

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC/23/45.COM/7B.Add.2,
  2. Recalling Decisions 41 COM 7B.56, 42 COM 7B.32, 43 COM 7B.95 and 44 COM 7B.61 adopted at its 42nd (Manama, 2018), 43rd (Baku, 2019) and extended 44th (Fuzhou/online, 2021) sessions respectively,
  3. Notes further progress with the revised management and governance arrangements, the Trust Transition Project, the implementation of the Avebury 2015 Transport Strategy, the forthcoming setting study and proposed Supplementary Planning Documents and future boundary review of the property, and the World Heritage Site Condition Survey, and requests the State Party to submit the draft setting study and the World Heritage Site Condition Survey to the World Heritage Centre for review by the Advisory Bodies;
  4. Welcomes the conservation works on the Stonehenge lintels and interpretation installations at West Kennet Long Barrow, Silbury Hill, the Sanctuary and Windmill Hill, also notes that the temporary education centre at Stonehenge does not affect attributes of the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property, but that a proposal for new educational facilities has been subject to a Technical Review by ICOMOS, and requests the State Party to take into account the resulting recommendations and to advise the World Heritage Centre of the response to the Technical Review findings;
  5. Commends the State Party for inviting the 2022 joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS/ICCROM Advisory mission to provide advice in the context of the redetermination of the Development Consent Order (DCO) of the proposed A303 road improvement scheme (Scheme) within the Stonehenge component of the property;
  6. Notes and endorses the conclusions and recommendations of the 2022 Advisory mission, and urges the State Party to fully implement the mission’s recommendations;
  7. Expresses profound regret that the Scheme has been granted a DCO without having been modified in accordance with previous Committee decisions and the recommendations of the 2022 mission;
  8. Reiterates its previous request that the State Party not proceed with the implementation of the Scheme for the section between Amesbury and Berwick Down in its current form, and considers that the minimum change required must include an extension of the underground section of the western approach (in tunnel and/or cut-and-cover) to at least the western boundary of the property, with the western portal relocated as far west as reasonably practical, thereby reducing the length of the cut-and-cover section and minimising the extent of archaeological resources which must be removed, and the implementation of a comprehensive archaeological salvage and mitigation programme, consistent with best practice standards and approaches;
  9. Further notes that the approved A303 road improvement scheme within the Stonehenge component of the property retains substantial dual carriageway sections exposed in cuttings, particularly those at the western end of the Stonehenge component of the property and that, at the present time, the A303 road improvement scheme, as approved by the DCO, constitutes a potential threat to the property, in conformity with Paragraph 179 of the Operational Guidelines, which, if implemented, would have deleterious impacts on the OUV of the property including its integrity, warranting inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger;
  10. Taking note of the judicial review process following the DCO and the expected legal challenges, as well as the possibility that the proposed Scheme may be modified, requests the State Party to prepare a comprehensive information package on the proposed modifications to the Scheme conforming to the requests by the Committee in its decisions as well as in line with the recommendations of the 2022 Advisory mission, and to submit it to the World Heritage Centre for review by 1 February 2024, and urges furthermore the State Party to consult with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, to ensure consistency in this regard and that all further decisions or actions to implement the Scheme in its current approved state are halted until the Committee has reviewed the comprehensive information package of proposed modifications at its 46th session;
  11. Requests furthermore the State Party to prepare, in consultation with the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies, a related set of corrective measures, which should include modifying the Scheme, consistent with the Committee’s decisions and informed by the recommendations of the 2022 Advisory mission, to deliver the best available outcome for the OUV of the property, for examination by the Committee at its 46th session;
  12. Finally requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2024, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 46th session, considering that the absence of significant progress in modifying the Scheme consistent with the Committee’s decisions and in accordance with the recommendations of the 2022 Advisory mission, would require a broad mobilization to preserve the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, including the inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.