THE controversial £1.7 billion Stonehenge Tunnel scheme is set to be scrapped, the Journal understands.

Survey work that has been carried out since last summer has uncovered a series of issues that would escalate the cost to well over £2 billion, which is a bill the Prime Minister is not prepared to pay.

The proposed upgrade of the A303, of which the 1.8-mile long tunnel is part of, is intended to bring relief to the route, particularly at the bottleneck around Stonehenge. In turn it would add to the Super Expressway to the South West.

However, sources have told the Journal that the government is already looking at alternatives.

Experts have been surveying the area since last summer, with the most recent work taking place focussing on the Countess roundabout.

Salisbury Journal: A previous CGI of the tunnel plans. Credit: Highways EnglandA previous CGI of the tunnel plans. Credit: Highways England

The decision now rests with the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, who has until “the Spring” to announce his decision.

However, some are anticipating the axe to fall in time for the budget on March 11.

If the decision does go against the tunnel, the government is likely to look to other options of bringing relief to the A303.

One of these could be to return to the “Rhind-Tutt Plan” that would see a circular route around the city using some of the originally approved 1994 Southern Bypass plans.

As reported, Salisbury Chamber of Commerce have been in talks with government officials about the possibility of the new route, put forward by Chamber president Andy Rhind-Tutt.

City MP John Glen, who has championed the tunnel scheme, said: “Large, strategic infrastructure projects like this are always subject to ongoing controversy and rumour until the final decision is made by the government.

Salisbury Journal: Stonehenge. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA WireStonehenge. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

“I am obviously aware of media speculation on the project in recent months, but this is a decision for the Secretary of State for Transport to take, not a choice devolved to the Westminster rumour mill.

“The Planning Inspectorate made their recommendation to Grant Shapps on January 2, beginning a three-month period in which to issue a final decision on the project. We await his decision.

“I appreciate that there is considerable cost accompanying the project but I have always been clear that the alternatives to what have been proposed do not stack up.”

Mr Glen added: “The ‘surface’ options following close to the current route are the most archaeologically and environmentally damaging to the World Heritage site, while options deviating the road much further south near to Salisbury will obviously not produce the journey time reductions required of the project.

“Ultimately, however, this is not a decision for the local MP or city minister, and we all need to wait to see what conclusion is reached.”

However, the claims has been quashed by Highways England.

A spokesperson said: “This is pure speculation.

"The A303 Stonehenge scheme is going through the proper planning process and we are awaiting a final decision from the Secretary of State for Transport.”

Salisbury Journal: Author and historian Tom Holland (second left) stands outside 10 Downing Street, London, as he holds a box containing a petition with 50,000 signatures calling for 'no further damage' to the Stonehenge landscape prior to handing it to staff at number 10. PA PhotoAuthor and historian Tom Holland (second left) stands outside 10 Downing Street, London, as he holds a box containing a petition with 50,000 signatures calling for 'no further damage' to the Stonehenge landscape prior to handing it to staff at number 10. PA Photo

The news comes just over a week after a petition with thousands of signatures calling on the government not to damage the Stonehenge landscape with road plans was delivered to Downing Street.

Campaign group the Stonehenge Alliance gathered around 50,000 signatures for its petition calling for “no further damage” to be done to the archaeological landscape in which the Neolithic stone circle stands.

It says that if A303 widening at Stonehenge is felt to be essential, it should be done by means of a deep bored tunnel at least 4.5km (2.8 miles) long, as anything less would cause “irreparable” damage to the wider World Heritage Site.

A fifth of the signatories are from more than 100 countries outside the UK, which organisers say underlines international concern over the project expressed by Unesco’s World Heritage Committee, which has opposed the road in its current form.

The alliance also says the project is poor value for money and does not take into account climate change.