(CNN) – The UK government has given approval to build a controversial tunnel near Stonehenge, an ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site of enormous historical importance that dates back around 5,000 years.
Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps gave permission to continue work – which includes a two-mile tunnel – on Thursday.
The decision has angered activists who say the character of the area surrounding the Neolithic stone circle monument in Wiltshire, south west England, would be in jeopardy.
They also fear the works could destroy areas of potential archaeological importance.
The decision means Highways England, which first submitted a planning application in 2018, has the green light to make changes to the main A303 road, which is known to run close to the monument and is regularly riddled with traffic jams.
Highways England welcomed the decision and said the project will reduce traffic noise.
Preparations for the two-lane road will begin next year, Highways England added.
The government’s decision is controversial, however, as the national planning inspection body, the Planning Inspectorate, recommended that the government “withhold approval”.
Stonehenge is famous because there are still many puzzles as to why the monument was erected and how the gigantic stones that make up the structure were transported.
The Stonehenge Alliance campaign group, which fought against the construction of the tunnel, also said the “road widening” would damage parts of the area.
In a statement posted on social media Thursday, the group said it “deeply regrets a decision that will send shock messages around the world” and would carefully review planning approval documents before deciding on further action.
The A303 one-way street is very close to the Neolithic stone monument. Activists say they are against widening the street.
Matt Cardy / Getty Images
The environmental campaign group Greenpeace also criticized the government’s decision.
Richard George, transport manager at Greenpeace UK, said in a statement Thursday that the tunnel would be a “disaster for English heritage and the world climate”.
“If the government is serious about a green recovery from the pandemic, it should invest in public transportation, but instead we’re getting more traffic and more pollution,” George said.
However, the move was welcomed by England Heritage, which manages the prehistoric site.
An English Heritage spokeswoman told CNN in a statement that replacing the “busy” A303 with a tunnel would “transform Stonehenge, reunite the landscape, and not only allow people to better enjoy and enjoy the old stones.” understand, but also better explore the surrounding countryside and discover many other fascinating prehistoric monuments. “