THE Government today scrapped plans for a major road improvement scheme at Stonehenge because it would cost too much.

Estimates for the controversial 2.1km-long (1.3-mile) tunnel scheme under Salisbury Plain had soared from £223m to £540m.

Transport Minister Tom Harris said today that allocating such sums "cannot be justified and would not represent best use of taxpayers' money".

The Stonehenge tunnel was deemed the best alternative scheme for an area which suffers major traffic hold-ups.

The Government is still committed to improving visitor facilities at Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site, but any traffic improvements will now be of a minor nature.

Today's decision was welcomed by the Save Stonehenge organisation, whose spokesman Chris Woodford said: "Christmas has come early for Stonehenge."

In a parliamentary written answer, Mr Harris said today that a review of the Stonehenge improvement plan - which had been the subject of a public inquiry - had identified a shortlist of possible options, including routes to the north and south of Stonehenge.

He added that the Government recognised the importance of the A303 Stonehenge improvement scheme and that today's announcement would come as a considerable disappointment for the project's supporters.

He said the Highways Agency would investigate possible small-scale improvements to the A303 as part of its overall stewardship of route.

Further work will include examination of the case for closing the junction of the A344 with the A303 near West Amesbury as part of the investigation of options for improving the setting of Stonehenge.

Save Stonehenge said that only a 1.3-mile section of the proposed 7.7-mile route would have been underground and that today's decision was "the only sensible outcome as a massive road-building project was always the wrong solution in such a sensitive landscape".

Mr Woodford added: "No-one with any sense wanted a tunnel, a flyover, a dual carriageway, and two whacking great interchanges here. It's just not acceptable to build 1950s-style motorways in places like this anymore."