We are assured by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport that
Geoffrey Wainwright's article "The Stonehenge we deserve" ["Antiquity",
June 2000] is written in his personal capacity, which is just as well.
This cannot be "the Stonehenge we deserve"; it is certainly not the
Stonehenge we wish for; nor with any luck the Stonehenge we shall get.
The recently published Stonehenge Management Plan takes us some way down
the necessary track, but there are still many hurdles. Among the relevant
Departments of State listed by Dr Wainwright on page 334, the most
of all was omitted: the Treasury. It was a Treasury decision, one must
that in November 1997 upset the rather good applecart then travelling
a conclusion that would have satisfied all the other bodies Dr Wainwright
cites. The consensus choice at that time was the "long bored tunnel", to
which both English Heritage and the National Trust had resoundingly
themselves in 1994; but it was brushed aside. Although the Dome was
massive funding, Stonehenge was sent empty away.
From then on Sir Jocelyn Stevens produced a run of proposals, each
by consultatory fanfares, for first one, then a second, then a third site
for the new "world class" Visitors' Centre for Stonehenge. Larkhill,
Fargo North, and Countess East followed on each other's heels and the
Secretary of State, Chris Smith, had to eat with exemplary patience
many of the words he had uttered in public. At the time of writing
[July 2000] Countess East survives as the likely site. (Dr Wainwright
refers both to a Countess East and to a Countess Farm Site [p 337]:
there are possible sites on both the East and the West sides of
Countess Road but the farm buildings are on the West.).
In Spring 1999 English Heritage advertised in the Property pages of
the International Herald Tribune (perhaps in the light of Messrs
long run of advertisements featuring Stonehenge on the paper's back page)
for an operator for the new Visitors' Centre: here was a "major
commercial opportunity". In July 1999 Dr Wainwright told Rescue's
Conference at the Society of Antiquaries that a short list of would-be
operators would appear in September. It didn't; nor in December; nor in
March 2000. A July 2000 press release from English Heritage shows that
(despite massive expenditure on lawyers and consultants' fees) no operator
has been found, and that until the matter of the roads is settled and a
flyover is in place at Countess Roundabout, nothing will be built.
On "the highways issues" [p. 337], Dr Wainwright refers to both the
"one day international conference" that was mounted in July 1994 by
English Heritage and the National Trust, and the 1995 Highways Agency
A303 Planning Conference. But, as is now common, he fails to mention
the ringing commitment made at the first by the Director General of
the National Trust, on behalf of both the Trust and English Heritage:
"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
Heritage Site, is a long bored tunnel starting east of New King Barrows
and finishing to the west well past the monument ... That it is the
restoration to its grand and natural setting that is the National Trust's
and English Heritage's duty.
"There is no historic site in England where we shall
uphold that duty with greater resolve and determination."
The silent, never-acknowledged betrayal of this promise is perhaps the
most dishonourable episode in environmental affairs of the last half
century in our country.
At the 1995 Highways Agency A303 Planning Conference (under an independent
Chairman) the consensus was that the Long Bored Tunnel should again be
endorsed despite obvious funding problems, and the money - estimated at
some £300m - should be sought outside the Transport Budget. The Lottery
was gearing up, and seemed a likely source.
The then Government's response was to leave it to the next one after the
Confusion then took over the driving seat. First a decision was taken -
how is not known - that the Long Bored Tunnel for which there was both a
general consensus and the specific commitment of both English Heritage and
the National Trust, should no longer be considered: it was
"uneconomical". Some extra money, however, would be found for the road
from the DCMS budget: this was to be "an exceptional environmental
scheme". Some more was to be set against the future earnings of the
commercially-run Visitors' Centre. The switching of environmental funds to
a World Heritage Site road project was something new in this country, and
was to be welcomed as a good precedent.
But the scheme itself was not well chosen. The Government knew it would
eventually have to present a Stonehenge Management Plan to UNESCO, (a
Management Plan for the Avebury half of the World Heritage Site was
prepared in full consultation with all the interested parties.) English
Heritage (Dr Wainwright presumably in the van) started out on what it
called the Stonehenge Master Plan, to which part of the new extra money
would go. It was developed with limited external consultation, and its
centrepiece was the pair of cut-and-cover tunnels to which so much
objection has been taken. These tunnels would be cut straight down into
the chalk of the World Heritage Landscape, immediately beside the Stones
themselves. Their double trench - some fifty metres across - would then be
refilled and covered over, the surface of Stonehenge Bottom would be
raised and re-arranged, and the tunnel portals and lighting would be
"sensitively engineered". Another part of the money would go for a
substantial length of new dual surface carriageway within the WHS; and yet
another part for a Winterbourne Stoke by-pass, which has nothing to do
with the needs of Stonehenge.
The very existence of this Master Plan caused confusion (Dr Wainwright
mentions it on pages 338 and 339.) Here the trouble arose because although
the Management Plan would eventually govern the management of the Site,
the Master Plan, including cut-and-cover tunnels and extraneous by-pass,
was completed and announced in September 1998 by English Heritage, several
months before the Management Plan Working Group had even met. Yet the
Management Plan is what the Government, in fulfilment of Britain's
international WHS commitments, has to present to UNESCO. The Master Plan
was not, as Dr Wainwright suggests, "influenced" by the (much later)
Management Plan: how could it have been?
What the so-called Master Plan spelled out - cut-and-cover tunnels and all
- was widely assumed to be endorsed by officialdom and final: subject to
planning approval and so on, this was what was to happen. Indeed in Autumn
1999, Salisbury District Council, as the Planning Authority, were asked to
accept as Supplementary Planning Guidance a planning brief for the
Commercial Visitors' Centre, and they were told by English Heritage that
the Master Plan governed policy, not the Management Plan. (Which anyway
was still out to consultation.)
Alerted, and in some alarm, Ministers let it be known that this was upside
down and back to front: the Management Plan is what is truly official and
goes to UNESCO.
However, in April 2000, when the Management Plan was finally agreed and
published, it did not mention the cut-and-cover proposal at all, and as
part of a strategy to "provide comprehensive treatment of road links
within the WHS" merely proposed, at 4.6.4, "placing the A303(T) in a
tunnel ...". It also stated at 1.5.11 that "the Master Plan ... runs in parallel
to, but independent of, the Management Plan".
So confusion still reigns: the Management Plan omits full discussion of
the Highways Issues that are central to any proper management and
protection of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and the unacceptable
cut-and-cover tunnels appear to remain in play with the "parallel" Master
Plan: the dualled cut-and-covers are still (summer 2000) Highways Agency
policy. But meanwhile another (Southern) route, the Parker Plan, with no
tunnel at all, has emerged. And a new figure for the Long Bored Tunnel has
appeared from a Highways Agency spokesman: only £40 million more than
cut-and-cover (NCE ROADS REVIEW, 22nd June 2000, p XX) instead of the
£100-odd million more which was mentioned previously.
In spring 2000, a group of organisations friendly to Stonehenge wrote to
UNESCO to ask that Stonehenge be placed on its List of World Heritage in
Danger because of the unacceptable tunnel proposals. ICOMOS UK, UNESCO's
representative in Britain, then advised that all the road proposals,
specifically including the long bored tunnel, would "need to be assessed
on equal terms", along with the cut-and-cover proposals.
Dr Wainwright ends his tale [p. 342] with an account of the Visitors'
Centre - its monopoly car parking, its "full range of interpretation,
catering and retail facilities". He claims that "the advantages" of the
Master Plan "scheme" are such as to "justify the damage", and that the
tunnels with their scars, portals and permanent lighting, the new dual
carriageways, and the commercial Visitors' Centre itself, would all be
"in keeping with the principles of sustainability: one form of
environmental capital will have been substituted for another with greater
benefits to the landscape as a whole."
Unless we have all been dreadfully wicked, this does not sound like "the
Stonehenge we deserve".
July 18th 2000
P.S. In fact, on July 10th, Sir Neil Cossons, the new Chairman of English
Heritage, announced that the search for a commercial operator was over and
that a more "hands-on role in the operation of the visitor centre" for
English Heritage was being explored. The Highways Agency, on the same day,
confirmed the Countess Roundabout Flyover, which is of course welcome, but
attachment to the Master Plan was repeated by both the Highways Agency and
Sir Neil: when they address ICOMOS UK's requirement that the long bored
tunnel "need[s] to be assessed on equal terms" with the cut-and-cover
proposals, and the "assessment" is carried out using the Environmental
Appraisal Checklist included in the DETR's 1998 Policy appraisal and the
environment, they will make the better decision about that too.
© Wayland Kennet & Elizabeth Young, November 2000.