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Court of Appeal hearing on future of Stonehenge

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) has secured a Court of Appeal hearing in its application for a judicial review of the Government’s decision to approve a £2.5bn road scheme through Stonehenge World Heritage Site, for a second time.

Posted on 23 May 2024

After judicial review was refused earlier this year, a judge has said there are “compelling” reasons to grant SSWHS an appeal.

After the road scheme was quashed in July 2021 following SSWHS’s first legal battle through the courts the Government re-determined the application and again granted another development consent order (DCO).  

SSWHS applied to have the new decision judicially reviewed, but the application was refused. Now the application for permission to apply for judicial review and, if granted, the judicial review hearing itself will be heard in a “rolled up” hearing at the Court of Appeal later this year. 

SSWHS grounds of appeal are that the judge at the judicial review hearing was wrong: 

  • To rule that, in deciding to approve the road scheme, the Minister did not need to personally consider whether various matters were relevant to their decision, including responses from SSWHS during the re-determination process
  • To assume the Minister considered documents available to him merely because he had been sent the examination library web links
  • To treat the re-determination process, without the re-opening of the DCO examination, as fair  
  • Not to find that the latest decision of the World Heritage Convention should have been taken into account when weighing up the risk of Stonehenge being removed from a list of World Heritage Sites
  • Not to reach a view on whether the DCO was compatible with the World Heritage Convention (WHC), by holding that the proper interpretation of the WHC was not a matter for the court
  • Not to consider the legal implications of the review of the National Policy Statement for National Networks (NPSNN) for climate change reasons when approving the scheme under the provisions of the Planning Act 2008
  • To refuse a stay on a legal argument concerning the proper approach to assessing the cumulative climate change and environmental impact of this Scheme and other committed road developments, pending a Supreme Court decision on an equivalent point.   

SSWHS points out that UNESCO, five planning inspectors, and over 230,000 people are strongly opposed to National Highways’ plans to damage Stonehenge World Heritage Site. 

SSWHS is represented by Leigh Day who instructed barristers David Wolfe KC (Matrix), Victoria Hutton and Stephanie David (39 Essex). 

John Adams, chair of the Stonehenge Alliance and one of the three directors of SSWHS, said: 

“This is extremely good news. All those who care passionately about our cultural heritage can breathe a sigh of relief. We now have a new opportunity for the Government decision to be thoroughly scrutinised.  

“This road scheme would be incredibly damaging to Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Yet, the Government doesn’t seem to care and is desperately trying to bulldoze through this decision before it is thrown out of office.” 

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said: 

“This news is very encouraging for our client. In granting permission to appeal, the Court of Appeal acknowledged the scale of public interest around ensuring that a decision about plans for Stonehenge is lawful.  

“The Court said there is a compelling reason for an appeal hearing. Our client is looking forward to presenting arguments about the fairness of the decision-making process relating to the future of Stonehenge as well as compliance with international law protecting the World Heritage Site.” 
SSWHS is crowdfunding its legal action. 

SSWHS applied for a judicial review of the Government’s second approval of the scheme on 14 July 2023. The first judicial review was held 23-25 June 2021, with the judgment being handed down by Mr Justice Holgate on 30 July 2021, quashing the Development Consent Order.

The Examination Report, dated 2 January 2020 recommended that the application be refused. It was published on 12 November 2020, when the Minister made their first decision to approve the scheme. 

Rowan Smith
Climate change Environment Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Rowan Smith

Rowan Smith is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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