PLANS for a controversial tunnel plan around Stonehenge were debated by MPs this week.

The debate yesterday was called by MP for Brentwood in Essex, Alex Burghart, in order to raise archaeological concerns around the site.

Mr Burghart said he aimed to bring these concerns to the foreground as “at the end of the [consultation and planning] process it is ministers who have the decision on whether the project goes ahead”.

The plans are for a dual carriageway via a tunnel past Stonehenge. But recent developments, such as excavations at the Blick Mead site adjacent to Stonehenge, have raised concerns. Mr Burghart said the site was “remarkably precious” as its damp conditions have allowed historic items dating back to 8,000BC to be preserved.

“The full significance of Blick Mead has only recently been revealed,” Mr Burghart said, adding: “It creates the most extraordinary category of human history.

“We must not seek to damage it, it must be protected.”

He also said an “extraordinary collection” of eight Neolithic long barrows to the west of Stonehenge is “unique not just in Britain, but in the world”.

Highways England previously said the project would “enhance and protect” the ancient site, but campaign group Stonehenge Alliance has opposed the plans on the basis that a tunnel shorter than 2.7 miles would cause “irreparable damage to the landscape”.

Mr Burghart said: “I fully understand the need for some form of road improvement in the area all I am asking for is assurances that we are doing everything in our power to protect the archaeological environment we clearly have.”

But other MPs said this “was not enough” and asked what Mr Burghart would propose instead.

He responded: “These are questions that the experts should find a means of answering. In the information that has been made available to the public that I have seen it is clear that the archaeological community has not had its concerns allayed.

“UNESCO has said on a number of occasions that the current proposals are not what they would wish.”

Salisbury MP John Glen also attended the meeting, but in his capacity as minister was not permitted to speak on the issue.

A non-statutory consultation on route options was held last year, and planning applications are due to be submitted later this year, with work set to start in 2021.