Throughout the 20th century the improvement of the surroundings of
has been on the agenda. In recent years it has become the object of a
smouldering dispute which might, without care, burst into acrimonious
flames: Stonehenge is even more important to even more people than were
Twyford Down or the Newbury Bypass.
Improvement is needed for three reasons:
1. There has to be a Management Plan agreed with ICOMOS for this World
2. The existing Visitor Centre, with its grubby car park, tiny shop and
loos, and the Stones fenced, is a national disgrace;
3. The only undualled stretch of the A303, a main road to the South West
of England, runs right by the Stones and across miles of ritual landscape
and latent archaeology. Danger and delay have arisen.
Further problems come from the large area of Ministry of Defence land to
the North, and from Larkhill village, which does not want several hundred
thousand visitors' worth of traffic passing through. Another road, the
important to local people and running even closer to the Stones, has to be
closed. The only possible sites for the Visitor Centre are at Countess
Roundabout, to the East, where a busy North-South road crosses the A303
and a flyover is the only answer. Another village, Winterbourne Stoke, has
been promised a bypass, even though it has nothing to do with the
The main battlefront is between the Government (the Departments of
Media and Sport, and of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and
Treasury) - not completely unready to fund A303 "improvement", but for
financial reasons backing a 2 kilometre cut-and-cover tunnel on the line
the existing A303; and, facing them, a large swathe of informed people and
organisations who back a longer bored tunnel (LBT), the better to preserve
and restore the archaeology, the loneliness, the silence, and the mighty
effect of the landscape. The cut-and-cover tunnel, they believe, would
precisely those qualities for which Stonehenge was nominated a World
The three requirements - WHS Management Plan, Visitor Centre, and better
road - intertwine and interact. A factual chronology with minimum comment
may show how.
The British Government's proposal that Stonehenge
and its surrounding landscape and monuments become a World Heritage Site
under the relevant International Convention is accepted by UNESCO. A dual
site, it comprises Stonehenge and the complex of sites at Avebury, some
20 miles away: "Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated SitesÓ. The
"unparalleled landscapeÓ is mentioned as well as the neolithic
monuments, and HMG internationally commits itself to their protection.
English Heritage (which manages the Stones,
given to the nation in 1918) and the National Trust (which owns
adjacent land bought by public subscription in the 1920s) jointly
seek outline planning permission for a new Visitors' Centre at
Larkhill; it would have a new access road from the A344 through
Fargo Plantation from the West. Salisbury District Council rejects
the application because of its impact on landscape and archaeology
(particularly the prehistoric Cursus). An appeal is lodged, then
An architectural competition for a Visitors'
Centre at Larkhill is won by Edward Cullinan, designer of the Visitors'
Centre at Fountains Abbey WHS: prize-winning but fiercely criticized
in the on-site Visitors' book. A second, detailed, application is made
for the Larkhill site, objected to, and withdrawn. A re-examination of
eight possible sites begins.
As possible routes for a dualled A303 at
Stonehenge, the Highways Agency advances a Northern Route, a Southern
Route and two on-line options: of the last, one has, and one has not a
short cut-and-cover tunnel. After public consultation, all are rejected.
Public consultation on the proposed sites for a
Visitors' Centre. Larkhill is preferred by the general public but
Countess East is chosen by English Heritage and the National Trust
as least damaging to the landscape and archaeology and providing
ample space for development. ("CountessÓ is Countess Farm by the
eponymous roundabout East of Stonehenge: sites on the East and the
West sides of it had been listed.)
Public Accounts Committee of the House of
Commons calls Stonehenge "presentationÓ (i.e. the present car park
and Visitors' Centre) a "national disgraceÓ.
1994: July 8th
English Heritage mounts a major International
Conference on Stonehenge: the Great Debate. (Sir) Angus Stirling,
Director General of the National Trust, ringingly commits both the
Trust and English Heritage to "a long bored tunnel". Here are his
"The first principle underlying all our joint
in recent years has been a total commitment, on the part of the Trust and
English Heritage, to find a solution to restore, and to maintain
the unity of Stonehenge and its natural, unsullied setting.
"We have concluded that the only feasible on-line route
[for the A303] which meets the essential requirements of this World
Site, is a long bored tunnel starting East of New King Barrows and
to the West well past the monument, that is the restoration to its grand
natural setting that is the National Trust's and English Heritage's duty.
"There is no historic site in England where we shall
that duty with greater resolve and determination."
The Long Bored Tunnel (LBT) is again endorsed by
consensus at a Highways Agency A303 Planning Conference in November. The
obvious funding problems are left for a next Government to face.
Messrs Mott McDonald estimate the cost of an LBT at
£300.2 million; Messrs Halcrow at £292.2 million. These estimates remain
the foundation for all later statements that the LBT is "unaffordable and
uneconomic". (But see January 2000.)
Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) 15 on Planning and the
Historic Environment, published by the Department of the Environment,
requires Planning Authorities to give "material consideration" to World
Heritage Site status: this is the only specific reference to World
Heritage Site status in, or beside, planning law. (PPGs are what they say:
official guidance, not injunctions.)
The new Director General of the National Trust,
Martin Drury, confirms Sir Angus Stirling's commitment: "the Trust will not
budge over protecting Stonehenge" (The Guardian: January 31st).
A 'POSTnote' on Tunnelling is published by the
Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, proposing an improved
system of cost-benefit analysis when archaeological, scientific,
landscape and transport interests are in conflict, as at an imaginary
site called "Twyburyhenge" - a combination of Twyford Down, Newbury and
Stonehenge, where conflict had erupted between the Department of Transport
and concerned citizens.
The then Government spokesman, Baroness
Trumpington, writes to Lord Kennet that World Heritage status is merely
"honorific". At the time, the Department of Transport's Advisory Document
on roads still stated, despite the Government's commitment to the World
Heritage Convention, that WHS Status had no standing in Planning Law.
English Heritage and Tussauds Group application
to the Millennium Fund under the Private Finance Initiative for a
Visitors' Centre at Countess East and related car-parking development is
1997: September 27th
The Code of Practice of the European Association
of Archaeologists is approved at Ravenna. Articles 1.7 and 2.6. are
relevant. (HMG has not yet ratified the related 1992 European Convention
on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage.)
English Heritage mounts a Conference on World
Heritage Sites at which British practice in regard to World Heritage
Sites is politely castigated by Dr. von Droste, then the Director of
UNESCO's World Heritage Centre. And Chris Smith, the Secretary of State
for Culture, Media and Sport, announces that a Management Plan for
Stonehenge is to be developed, as required by UK's commitments under the
World Heritage Convention. (At this time, a major effort is being
directed to the excellent Management Plan for Maritime Greenwich as a new
UK World Heritage Site.) The Stonehenge Management Plan Working Party,
however, does not start work until December 1998.
A ministerial meeting (according to Halcrow 1998)
decides the LBT is "unaffordable and uneconomic", and instructs English
Heritage to produce new proposals.
A full year before the Management Plan Working Party
first meets, Chris Smith once again announces the Visitors' Centre is to
be at Larkhill, the Ministry of Defence having agreed to reconsider earlier
objections. But the same local and archaeological objections remain
insuperable: the proposal is once again discarded.
At some point both Halcrows, for the Highways Agency,
and the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment
(CSERGE), for English Heritage, are commissioned to produce Reports. The
first is an Environmental Assessment of four road options (including two
earlier rejected, but excluding the EH / NT and consensus-preferred LBT).
CSERGE's is on the Heritage Value of Stonehenge. Both report in 1998.
DETR publishes Policy Appraisal and the
Environment, with an Environmental Appraisal Checklist of 9 points,
presumably to be observed by all Government Departments and Agencies.
Item 1: What does the policy or programme aim to
Item 2: What impacts will the various options ... have
on the environment at home and abroad? Consider both direct and indirect
costs and benefits.
Item 3: How significant are the impacts?
Item 4: What method will be used to value the costs
Item 5: What is the preferred option and why?
Item 6: What arrangements are in place for effective
monitoring and evaluation? What data will be needed and when?
Item 7: How will the appraisal be publicised?
Coming from DETR this document, which addresses the
problem of "non-monetarisable" values, marks a significant change of
CSERGE report completed. It gives Stonehenge a
£300 million "heritage value", apparently for Britons alone. Its value as
a World Heritage Site or to "foreigners" is not mentioned. The Report
surfaces briefly, but is apparently shelved. Among its findings appeared
to be a definite preference, among those it enquired of, for "no change"
rather than the cut-and-cover tunnel. This preference was not among the
"options", but can be deduced from the figures.
Chris Smith's Larkhill proposals are withdrawn and
he proposes Fargo North for the Visitor Centre.
The Halcrow Report is completed and presented, but it
is not in the public domain nor even made available to all members of the
Stonehenge Management Plan Working Party when that is finally appointed
and meets. (It is understood that Salisbury District Council and
Wiltshire County Council at some point had received copies.) In September
1999 it is placed in the House of Lords Library. The Report contains
one-page résumés of findings on each option; that on the 2-km.
cut-and-cover twin tunnels does not reflect the findings reported in the
full text, but it may be all that Ministers saw. What the Report found
That 10 hectares of WHS land would be newly taken for
the 3.5 kilometres of new dualling of the A303 outside the cut-and-cover
tunnels (but within the WHS).
11 hectares in theory would be returned to grass, but
there has to be a road of sorts for "non-A road traffic" (horses,
bicycles, etc.) presumably on or near the existing line of the A303.
There would be 4-500 metre approach cuttings at each
end of the cut and cover tunnel or tunnels.
The two or four portals would be large and
There would be permanent lighting of the tunnels,
visible at either end day and night.
There would still be noise and pollution.
There would be a new, undisguisable, 200 by 150 metre
hump of unstated height covering the tunnels, in Stonehenge Bottom in
direct view of the Stones.
In dry weather the 2-Km tunnel scars could show.
Only the landscape in the immediate "amphitheatre"
would be improved, not the landscape of the Stonehenge "bowl", let alone
that of the whole World Heritage Site.
No estimate is provided for the costs of the several
years of disruption during the proposed works.
1998: July 24th
Letter from Chris Smith, Minister for Culture, Media, and Sport, to Lord
Kennet (C98/04816/10624): after mentioning "the need for a degree of
compromise if we are to find a way forward for Stonehenge" (without
elaborating), he writes:
"I would not wish English Heritage to press ahead
with proposals for new visitor facilities - nor would they wish to -
before all the relevant issues have been fully considered and satisfactory
solutions have been found. It is essential that arrangements for visiting
the site must be environmentally and archaeologically sustainable".
An A303 improvement scheme is announced by the
DETR as an "exceptional environmental scheme". It includes a by-pass for
the village of Winterbourne Stoke, which Halcrow, and others earlier, had
advised should be dealt with separately, not as part of the Stonehenge
road plan. The scheme includes the on-line dualling scheme through the
World Heritage Site that was rejected by consensus at the 1994 and '95
Conferences, two kilometres of it in cut-and-cover twin tunnels at the
centre of the World Heritage Site. These intrusions can be "sensitively"
treated at the design stage.
Chris Smith announces a Stonehenge Master Plan,
even though the Stonehenge Management Plan Working Party has still not
met. The Master Plan is endorsed by English Heritage and by National Trust
officials. Public consultations are not known to have taken place, and the
membership of the National Trust had not been informed although National
Trust land is involved.
1998: November 23rd
A DCMS official writes to David Part, Chairman of
the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society (WANHS):
"The fact that the tunnel would result in the loss of
five scheduled monuments is of course regrettable...".
He appears unaware of the Halcrow list of permanent
damage to the WHS, (available from June 1998) and refers to "sensitive"
First meeting of Stonehenge Management Plan
Working Group, including representatives of local organisations, statutory
bodies and landowners. Despite requests, including formal written ones, no
critical discussion of the Master Plan is permitted in this group by Lady
Gass, its English Heritage Chairman, while the Management Plan is being
drawn up by the Working Party. Major issues are thus largely excluded from
discussion because they are deemed to have been already dealt with by the
Master Plan. This contradicts Lord McIntosh's Parliamentary Answer to a
House of Lords question (HL 5404):
The Stonehenge World Heritage Management Plan ... provides the overarching
framework within which the Stonehenge Master Plan will be implemented.
Highways Agency consultation (mainly local) on
the A303 improvement scheme, including the Winterbourne Stoke by-pass.
Unfortunately the Consultation Document is so devised that indications of
support for the by-pass could not but simultaneously indicate support for
the 2 km cut-and-cover tunnel. This consultation has since been quoted as
proving public support for the 2 km cut-and-cover tunnel.
English Heritage, seeking an operator for the
intended new Visitors' Centre, advertises it as a
"major international commercial opportunity"
in the Property pages of the International Herald
Tribune. The Management Working Group had not yet reported, but it is
claimed that bidders have been "informed" of the Management Plan. In its
agents' (massive) documentation, English Heritage stated that "the
Visitors' Centre will be the Gateway to the Stonehenge World Heritage
Site": it was to be a "grand project of the highest prestige" in the
"tradition of the Propylaea to the Parthenon and the Queen's House at
Greenwich". English Heritage also appears both to guarantee the operator's
commercial success, and to pledge itself to support the operator's
planning applications, etc.., for the proposed 70 acre site at Countess
East. These pledges were apparently later withdrawn.
Lord Whitty, Minister for Roads, in a letter to
Lord Kennet (W/10418/99) says there will be an Environmental Assessment
for the A 303 Stonehenge scheme, as required by both EU and national
A well-attended meeting, called at the Society of
Antiquaries by "Rescue - the Trust for British Archaeology", votes by a
large majority (one against, a few abstentions) against the cut-and-cover
tunnels. At the meeting, Geoff Wainwright, English Heritage's Chief
Archaeologist, says that the short-list of applicants for the Visitors'
Centre operation would be announced in September 1999. (No short-list was
1999: August 2nd
It is announced that bids to operate the Visitor
Centre have been received. There is no mention in the Press Release that
the winning bid would have to be compatible with and governed by the
Management Plan, which then was not even in draft.
1999: September 6th
Draft Management Plan exhibited and sent out for
consultation: replies due in October. (The English Heritage Press Release
distinguishes between "Stonehenge" and its "setting" and implies this
distinction will be accepted in the Management Plan.)
English Heritage brief for Supplementary Planning
Guidance by Salisbury District Council (SDC) outlines its plans for a
major commercial development at Countess East as a Visitors' Centre: among
other things a "range of catering outlets including fast food restaurants
and other beverage outlets"and "a range of retail outlets", and yet more
"outlets" than these would be "decided on [their] merits". The brief for
the SDC Planning Committee stated that the Master Plan, not the Management
Plan, is the governing policy: this contradicts earlier announcements.
Local residents form a Group to express
alarm at the traffic consequences; at the excessive scale of a commercial
development outside the WHS (the Countess East site is larger than the
Countess West site, within the WHS, which the residents would prefer); and
at the uncertain economic and environmental viability of an explicitly
commercial Visitors' Centre. They notice that the Visitors' Centre Brief
contains no safeguards on timing. If planning permission for a Visitors'
Centre were given before the roads are agreed, they will be faced with a
fait accompli: the details of timing in the October 13th Master Plan
Newsletter are confusing. Confusion also remains over an implied
suggestion that the operator would contribute to the "heritage" cost of
the new road schemes, roundabouts, flyovers, etc. The operator also
appears to be promised a monopoly of car-parking throughout the whole
Stonehenge area; which would presumably have to be enforced by the
The scale and overall sustainability of a
"world class", "international commercial opportunity" -type Visitors'
Centre, and its possible consequences for the World Heritage Site itself,
were not discussed by the Management Plan Working Party. But the new
English Heritage proposal was incompatible with Chris Smith's expectation
that the Visitors' Centre would be "essentially educational" (Letter:
November 3rd 1999).
A "pledge" to the local residents in EH's Master
Plan Newsletter (Autumn 1999) that the Visitors' Centre at Countess East
would not open before the road improvements (including a flyover at the
Countess roundabout) were in place and the A344 beside Stonehenge was
closed, which would only be when the Master Plan's first cut-and-cover
tunnel at Stonehenge Bottom was complete and in operation. Not an
easy-to-work-out timescale. Nor was it clear what the chosen operator
would do in the meantime with the present Visitors' Centre and Car Park,
which remain a "national disgrace".
"Heart of Neolithic Orkney" accepted by UNESCO as a
new UK World Heritage Site.
final draft of the Management Plan presented to Chris
Smith. It is widely welcomed, because it recognises, as the Master Plan
did not, that "Stonehenge" consists of the whole World Heritage Site (not
simply a "core" immediately round the Henge) situated in a less important
"setting" where dualling roads, altering the landscape, setting up
permanently-lit tunnel portals, etc., might by "sensitive implementation"
somehow be converted from vandalism to the acceptable.
During 1999, "Seahenge" was dismantled without proper
advance explanation, and to public alarm; a "Stonehenge" at Miami was saved; and
the Leaning Tower of Pisa was described by Professor Tarabella of Pisa
University (Times, December 6th), as "an Italian Stonehenge". Throughout 1998 and
1999, Messrs AT&T used Stonehenge in massive photographic advertisements
on the back of the world-wide International Herald Tribune and in
A new poster using Stonehenge appeared all over
London and in the British press advertising another hi-tech communications
Six bodies, including leading archaeological and
environmental organisations, write to the Times voicing their alarm and
suggesting that Stonehenge be placed on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in
Danger. The Chairmen of English Heritage and the National Trust,
responding to this letter, admit that the current proposals for a
cut-and-cover tunnel represent a "compromise" but do not say who or what
with, nor why they have resiled from their earlier public commitments.
During January 2000, press stories claimed the
Visitors' Centre decision was imminent; silence continued.
2000: February 24th
ICOMOS UK - the British arms of ICOMOS, to which
the Government submitted its Stonehenge Management Plan for approval
issues a "position statement on Stonehenge": ICOMOS UK supports, in
principle, the general approach, subject to further evaluation of the
details, and to a full Environmental Impact Assessment, which would be
expected to form part of the Planning Process. The alternatives, including
the long bored tunnel, would need to be assessed in equal terms.
The Stonehenge World Heritage Site Management Plan is
published, with none of the fanfare and celebration that had accompanied
the many ill-fated announcements of earlier years.
The document has many merits: chiefly that it is in no
doubt that "Stonehenge" is the whole World Heritage Site and that this is
the area entitled to the
"protection, conservation, presentation, and
transmission to future generations"
for which we are internationally committed by the
World Heritage Convention. So it looks to be solving the first of the
Stonehenge problems and highlights the faults of the Master Plan, elements
of which would indeed cause irretrievable damage.
As for the second problem, it is put on ice.
2000: July 10th
English Heritage's new Chairman, Sir Neil Cossons,
announces that the whole expensive search for a commercial operator for
the Visitors' Centre has failed. It has not, fortunately, been recognised
as a "major international commercial opportunity". Instead, English
Heritage are to "exploreÉ opportunitiesÉfor a more hands-on role in [its]
operationÉ" which they will put out for public consultation in 2002.
Remain the roads. The Highways Agency
announced, also on July 10th 2000, that the Countess Roundabout Flyover
was accepted and planned for, as part of the Master Plan's £130 million
A303 Improvement - on-line 2 km cut-and-cover tunnels and all.
But now the local authorities are showing
interest in a new "Southern Route", proposed by Colonel Parker. And the
always unreasonable hope - whose was it? - that ICOMOS might ignore the
road issue if it liked the rest of the Management Plan has been scotched
by ICOMOS UK's February 24th Position Statement: re-examination of all the
road options is now required, including the Long Bored Tunnel. And while a
figure of an extra £100 million for the LBT has often been mentioned, a
new figure has appeared from a Highways Agency spokesman: only £40 million
more than cut-and-cover [NCE ROADS REVIEW, 22 June 2000, p XX] (although
this figure has since been stated to have been mistaken).
Perhaps the old consensus of the middle nineties is re-emerging? It would
be very welcome, and save a great deal of trouble.
© Wayland Kennet & Elizabeth Young, November 2000.