Plans to move a major road which goes past Stonehenge into a tunnel underneath it will be an “act of vandalism”, say campaigners.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced proposals for the A303, which include building a 1.8mile dual carriageway tunnel as it passes the World Heritage Site in Wiltshire.
The road, currently a single carriageway, is a notorious bottleneck on the route to the South West.
The tunnel would remove the sight and sound of traffic for people visiting Stonehenge and improve journeys, DfT officials claimed.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “This major investment in the South West will transform the A303 and benefit those locally by cutting congestion and improving journey times.
“It will also boost the economy, linking people with jobs and businesses with customers.”
But campaigners with Stonehenge Alliance are vehemently opposed to the plans.
Author Tom Holland, a leading writer on the ancient world, urged people to join a campaign against the proposal, stating: “Moving the A303 into a tunnel would be a catastrophe. An act of vandalism that would shame our country and our generation.”
He added: “The Government’s decision to greenlight the Stonehenge Tunnel is a calamitous one. It threatens untold damage to the most significant prehistoric landscape in Europe, and risks annihilating sites that promise to open a window onto the very beginnings of Britain. A Conservative Government should properly be conserving what is most precious about our country, not destroying it.”
Stonehenge Alliance says the tunnel will “devastate” the prehistoric landscape.
In 2015, historian Dan Snow said: “We have recently started to realise that the standing stones are just a beginning. They sit at the heart of the world’s most significant and best-preserved stone-age landscape. The government’s plans endanger this unique site.
“Around the world we see pictures of our fellow humans smashing the treasures of the past and count ourselves lucky that we live in a country which values its rich history and appreciates what it offers modern Britain. Our heritage helps us understand ourselves, how we got here and where we are going.”
The tunnel is part of £2 billion of investment in the South West, the DfT said.
A major international report published in May last year concluded that a tunnel could benefit Stonehenge if the scheme is well designed and constructed.
Heritage groups which manage the area have previously said it would make the setting of the ancient stone circle more tranquil, give the public greater access to the wider prehistoric landscape and improve the environment for wildlife.
Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: “Our plans for the A303 recognise the national importance of the route and these improvements will bring real benefit to the region and local communities.”
A consultation into the Stonehenge proposals will run until March 5, with the preferred route announced later this year.
The scheme to tackle congestion in the area was announced by the Government in December 2014.