Work to improve the environment of Stonehenge gets under way next week – after decades of wrangling and many millions spent on schemes and consultations that came to nothing
“It’s the official start,” said Renée Fok of English Heritage, which manages the World Heritage Site. “Things are finally getting done.”
The mysterious monument in Wiltshire is one of the most famous tourist sites in the world. Each year it receives more than a million visitors, half of them from overseas. But while the stones themselves continue to amaze, Stonehenge’s setting and facilities have come in for withering criticism. Simon Jenkins, the chairman of the National Trust, has called the site a “national disgrace”.
The principal problem is that Stonehenge is beset by traffic and roads – the always-busy A303, and the A344 that branches from it and passes close to the stone circle. The car parks become overcrowded in summer and the visitor centre is dated. Under the new scheme, which will cost £27 million, English Heritage promises “a landscape transformed”.
The keystone of the project is the closure of the A344, part of which will be grassed over. The existing buildings and car parks will be removed and a new “energy-efficient” visitor centre built, with a shop, café, “education space” and galleries. An adjacent coach and car park will be built 1½ miles west of the stones at Airman’s Corner.
A shuttle service will take visitors to the stones, and people will have the option of walking all or part of the way.
The scheme has received cautious approval. Nigel Swift, the chairman of Heritage Action, which is dedicated to the conservation of Britain’s prehistoric sites, expressed “sheer relief and gratitude that a nightmare that has lasted for many decades is over”.
Frank Somers of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids, who regard the site as a temple, said he was “broadly happy that some improvements are finally scheduled to happen”.
The A344 is due to close in April 2013 and the new visitor centre to open in autumn 2013. The area of the existing buildings will be returned to grass by the summer of the following year. Stonehenge will remain open during the building work. For more information, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/stonehenge.
Sponsored by ‘The Stonehenge Tour Compan’ www.StonehengeTours.com
Merlin says “All good for wiltshire tourism”
Merlins @ Stonehenge Stone Circle