Stonehenge may not be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but that’s probably only because Heroditus never came to Britain. If he came here now, he’d be appalled by the site of the stones – sandwiched as they are between two busy main roads, a car park complete with portaloos, and a visitor centre that makes you wish you were visiting something else.
A “national disgrace” is what a committee of MP’s called it more than a decade ago, and nothing much has changed since then. Until now that is. After years of wrangling over a series of schemes involving tunnels, by-passes and road closures, the Government believes it may finally have a plan that does Stonehenge justice. Others, including several prominent archaeologists, are not so sure and have set up The Stonehenge Alliance to fight the proposals.
When Sir Jocelyn Stevens took the reigns at English Heritage in 1992. He vowed to make Stonehenge his top priority, to “sort out” the mess of roads criss-crossing the site, and the inappropriate and inadequate visitor facilities that had been branded a national disgrace by the Public Accounts Committee:
From the top of the King Barrows Ridge heading south on the A303 it’s easy to see what the problem is. The road itself, and the smaller A344 that forks off to the right, dominate the landscape as the raised bowl in which Stonehenge sits opens out in front of you. The view of the stones is a good one – and is much appreciated by motorists – but it’s hardly an appropriate setting for such an historic monument.
Buried in the down right beside the stones themselves the bunker-like concrete visitor centre, with it’s shop, ticket office, take-away cafe, and portaloos, is little better. Everyone agrees something must be done. The question is what?
Earlier plans, for a 4 kilometre tunnel bored under the entire site were rejected by the then Conservative government in 1996 on the grounds of cost. The current proposal, the “master plan” as it’s called, is backed by both English Heritage and the National Trust which owns much of the land. The idea is to bury the A303 in a 2 kilometre cut-and-cover tunnel, to close and green-over the A344, and to re-locate and improve the visitor facilities at a site outside the boundary of the World Heritage Site:
Kate Fielden, is a founding member of the Stonehenge Alliance. The problem with the master plan is that a shorter tunnel, although missing the stones, would both start and finish well within the boundaries of the wider World Heritage Site. Opting for cut and cover construction rather than a bored tunnel would more than halve the cost, but means digging up the ground along its entire length. An act of archaeological vandalism the alliance says beggars belief:
And the Stonehenge Alliance is not alone. In July ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, urged the Government to “pay due regard to the World Heritage Site as a whole, and not just that part closest to the stones”. And now even the National Trust’s support for the scheme is under attack from within. A motion before this month’s AGM calls on the charity to abandon its position. The Trust’s Mark Harold accepts the master plan is far from perfect, but he believes, its a good compromise:
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Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website