Stonehenge in Danger of Losing World Heritage Status Over 'Unlawful' Construction Plans

Stonehenge could be in danger of losing its world heritage status over controversial construction plans.

In November, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps approved Highways England's bid to construct a two-mile tunnel near Stonehenge, a famous prehistoric monument in England.

The proposed tunnel would run underneath the site with the intent of reducing traffic along the A303, a major road running past Stonehenge that serves as a primary route to London. The tunnel is projected to cost nearly $2.3 billion and would require an overhaul of eight miles of the A303, The Guardian reported.

However, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee advised that plans for the tunnel should be changed. Last month, The Guardian reported that, per the committee, unless the tunnel was extended, the construction would do damage to the area.

Other activists and archaeologists who agreed with UNESCO brought their complaints to the high court. And as reported by multiple outlets Wednesday, the high court ruled in favor of the activists, deeming Shapp's decision to approve the plan "unlawful."

Highways England, however, announced that it would move forward with its plans, despite the court's ruling.

"The procurement process is very much live," Highways England project manager David Bullock told The Guardian. "We have to wait while the Department for Transport considers its options, and in the meantime, we are continuing with the process to appoint a contractor for the main works phase of the scheme."

He added that early preparatory work has been put on pause, but the team is still working on the procurement process to ensure the project remains on deadline.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, some archaeologists argue that the construction would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of artifacts. UNESCO argued: "The proposed tunnel length remains inadequate to protect the [outstanding universal value] of the property."

If Highways England proceeds with the proposed construction, UNESCO could vote to move Stonehenge to its World Heritage in Danger list. Eventually, many believe that it could lose its status altogether, which could have devastating long-term effects on the site.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee was formed in 1972. The goal of the committee is to preserve cultural and natural heritage through the identification of and protection of monuments and sites considered to be "of outstanding value to humanity."

To be added to the world heritage list, a country must first nominate a site or monument to the committee. Then, a team of experts will survey the site to determine if it meets certain criteria. If it does, the committee will vote on whether or not to grant the site world heritage status.

UNESCO provides financial assistance to those countries with world heritage sites. If Stonehenge eventually loses its status, the area will no longer be eligible for world heritage funding, which could be detrimental to the preservation of the site.

"The choice to reduce international aid, for example, yet to still press ahead with feeding this white elephant is a disgrace and will continue to harm Britain's moral authority in the world," Professor David Jaques told The Guardian.

Stonehenge is at risk of losing its world heritage status over "unlawful" construction plans. Finnbarr Webster / Stringer/Getty