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£14m Stonehenge bill

Government has already spent massively on tunnelling project unlikely to be built

THE HIGHWAYS Agency has already spent more than £14 million on the controversial Stonehenge tunnelling project even though it is facing the axe before it even gets to site.

The figure emerged in a written answer by transport minister Stephen Ladyman, who told Parliament the agency had spent £14.1 million with suppliers on the 1.2 km tunnel under the World Heritage site between March 2002 and March 2005.

The construction contract was awarded to a Balfour Beatty/Costain joint venture in 2002 but the scheme was put on hold by Dr Ladyman last year.

The delay came as projected costs rocketed from £300 million to £510 million due to unexpected ground conditions at the site.

The Highways Agency has spent the money on the Balfour Beatty/Costain joint venture, designers Halcrow and Gifford and adviser Mott MacDonald.

The £14 million does not include salary costs at the agency or the Department for Transport.

A Highways Agency spokesman said: 'Some of these costs are things like site surveys, which can be transferred onto new schemes.' The Government started consultation on alternatives to the scheme two weeks ago.

Options include a bypass to the north of Stonehenge, a bypass to the south, a 'cut and cover' tunnel or another bypass option called the Winterbourne Stoke bypass.

The consultation closes on April 24, with transport secretary Alistair Darling due to make a final decision during the summer.

But the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors warned: 'The review of the Stonehenge scheme will mean up to five years' delay and gives little hope, in that work will not start until 2009-10 at the earliest.' The Stonehenge project was originally advertised in the Official Journal in March 2001.