You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Stonehenge’ category.

We were going to write just this…..

Since the Government’s intentions about the A303 at Stonehenge aren’t yet made public we have to make do with 2 verbal clues:

  • “We are discussing a range of potential options. So, a range of options,  not all of them. We can safely assume that the “long tunnel” option isn’t being discussed as it’s missing from the published list of options.
  • “we have worked closely with key organisations, including English Heritage and the National Trust”. So, the only two heritage organisations mentioned as being “worked closely with” are one that supported the short tunnel last time and one that didn’t but is strongly rumoured to be prepared to reverse its stance if its land isn’t touched.

So who’d bet against a short tunnel? And aren’t these words pretty slippery:

  • No investment decisions have been made”. But if the long tunnel is missing from the list of options the biggest investment decision has been made. The Autumn Statement will specify  the short tunnel no doubt and the only faint hope for avoiding it thereafter will be if all those organisations who opposed it so passionately last time unite to do so again. It would be ironic if the organisation with the watchword “forever, for everyone” broke ranks and agreed to the damage.

.

But now we have to write this….

It has been revealed in the Financial Times that English Heritage and the National Trust are both willing to support a short tunnel. It won’t encroach on their land, it will threaten any number of monuments and damage any number of monument settings within the World Heritage Site and it does offer the opportunity to expand an enclosed theme park.

You might very well think that any conservation bodies worthy of the name would fight like tigers (for a very long time, and in public)  for a long tunnel – since one takes donations to stand up for special places “forever, for everyone” and the other takes taxpayers’ money to be England’s official “heritage champion”, but you’d be wrong, evidently. It’s notable though that both have successfully defended their own patches. So it’s an awful day for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and a much better one for NT and EH.

But here’s the bit that will stay on their respective records forever:

Officials close to the minister say it is “highly significant” that the National Trust and English Heritage are both willing to support a tunnel…..

.

 _____________________________________________________________

Here’s the National Trust Press Office’s attempt to justify the organisation’s craven abdication of its moral duty to everyone who ever sent it money http://ntpressoffice.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/national-trust-statement-on-stonehenge-tunnel-proposal/

(A remarkably similar statement can be expected from the English Heritage Press Office shortly!)

The deputy Prime Minister has just said he wants the Government to sanction plans to rebuild the A303 before the next election. Since the 3 options just published for the Stonehenge section consist of 2 versions of a short tunnel plus an unrealistic northern bypass – and no long tunnel – it seems likely that what he is effectively pressing for is a short tunnel. As for the timing, he says he very much hopes we can see “diggers in the ground” well before 2017/18.
.

Hindhead

Here are a couple of questions about what’s some would see as a looming World Heritage Scandal:
.
First, we previously wrote to English Heritage asking what they meant when they said they’d argue for the tunnel “with all our strength” - a long one or a short one? In April they replied:
It is not possible to comment on this, or provide documentation that supports a decision regarding which scheme English Heritage would support, for the simple reason that we have not yet been presented with scheme options to advise upon. When DfT presents us with their potential scheme options, then we will be able to advise upon their heritage impacts and relative merits.
Well, the options have now been published (sans a “long tunnel”) and the Stonehenge Alliance, for one, has made a formal response. Will English Heritage now clarify their position and will they, like the Stonehenge Alliance has done, call for the “long tunnel” option to be reinstated as an option on the grounds that the other options are hugely damaging to the World Heritage Site they are charged with protecting?
(If you’re an EH member, or just interested, you might care to ask them yourself –  http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/contact-us/ )
.
Second, there’s a nasty rumour that the National Trust might reverse its previous opposition to a short tunnel (bearing in mind that this time it won’t involve any digging on that portion of the World Heritage Site that’s theirs.)
(If you’re an NT member, or just interested, you might care to ask them yourself – http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/contact-us/. )
.
Alternatively, the Campaign for Better Transport (a member of the Stonehenge Alliance, alongside the Ancient Sacred Landscape Network, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth, and RESCUE: The British Archaeological Trust) has issued this plea:
.
 If a new dual carriageway is to be built, then the Stonehenge Alliance believes that a minimum tunnel length of 4.5km is what is needed to avoid further damaging the Site. It would show that the Government is serious about looking after our heritage and what makes Britain special.
If you agree that Stonehenge is special, you might like to support our call by writing to the Secretary of State, asking that if a new road is going to be constructed, it should be in a tunnel at least 4.5km long.  Thank you.

Regular readers will know that for years we’ve been worrying that the Government will impose a cheap short tunnel (with damaging cuttings at each end) on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site – and thus go back to the solution opposed by almost every archaeological and heritage organisation but cancelled only because of the credit crunch. Now it looks as if this highly damaging spectre has risen again with two short tunnel options being discussed, with the only other option said to be a northern bypass. (The latter sounds so impractical, disruptive, damaging and expensive it’s hard to believe anyone is serious about it. Could it be a mere “Aunt Sally” option, set up to be universally rejected to give the impression the public has been involved in a choice?)

We know there is a traffic problem and a solution has to be found to combat the misery of the A303. But here’s the thing: last time, nearly everyone said the short tunnel option was unacceptable. How then can it now be acceptable, particularly when Professor Vince Gaffney and others have now discovered hundreds of new features within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site? How would access roads to a short tunnel be fitted between those?

Here is a letter just sent to the Government by the Stonehenge Alliance:

THE STONEHENGE ALLIANCE

From the Chairman, George McDonic, MBE, BL, DIPLTP, FRTPI, DPA, FFB
To  The Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP,  Secretary of State for Transport
Sent by email on 3 October, 2014

Dear Secretary of State,

Proposals for the A303 at Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Alliance* is a group of non-Government organisations and individuals originally formed in 2001 which maintains a watch over any major new development that would adversely impact on the World Heritage Site (WHS). We are writing to request your intervention in the current process concerning proposed road improvements affecting the site.

The A303 is currently one of six identified road corridors subject to feasibility studies to examine possible improvements. It is most regrettable that this process has focused on road improvements rather than on considering more sustainable transport alternatives.  We have grave concerns about the impacts that the proposed road options might have on the WHS.

Stonehenge is an iconic symbol of Britain’s past people and culture.  It is a significant draw both nationally and internationally and important culturally and economically. Yet as important as the Stones are, it is their context, the surrounding landscape, which helps make them so special. This is recognised in the designation of the Stonehenge WHS which covers nearly 27 square kilometres. The importance of the surrounding landscape was highlighted in the recent BBC TV Operation Stonehenge series which identified numerous new sites in the wider WHS area.

At the last Corridor Feasibility Study Reference Group, a bored tunnel between 2.5 and 2.9km long as well as a northern trunk road diversion, were proposed for the A303 at Stonehenge for further investigation, while a request for a long bored tunnel of at least 4.5km to be costed was dismissed outright. All of the options now under consideration for the A303 at Stonehenge could inflict severe and irreversible damage upon the WHS and its setting and might well lead to the WHS being considered for the World Heritage in Danger List.  A longer tunnel would avoid this.

The current approach appears to be pursuing options contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework and at odds with advice from UNESCO and, notably, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in its Guidance on Heritage Impact Assessments for Cultural World Heritage Properties (2011).

We urge you to intervene in the study to ensure that a long bored tunnel of at least 4.5km (for which Highways Agency drawings were done c.2001) be examined and costed alongside the shorter tunnel option already put forward by the Corridor Feasibility Study Reference Group. There is real concern about the haste in which the study is being progressed and we request that greater time for consultation and engagement is taken in order to safeguard this iconic cultural asset.

I look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely,
George McDonic, Chairman, the Stonehenge Alliance

Copies to:  Baroness Kramer, Minister of State for Transport,
Rt. Hon. John Hayes MP, Minister for Roads,
Julian Glover, Special Adviser,
Mary Creagh MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport,
Richard Burden MP, Shadow Minister for Roads,
John Glen, MP for Salisbury,
Claire Perry, MP for Devizes,
Sir Simon Jenkins, Chairman, The National Trust,
Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General,The National Trust,
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive, English Heritage,
Susan Denyer, Secretary, ICOMOS-UK,
Petya Totcharova, Head of Europe and North America Unit, UNESCO World Heritage Centre,
Dr Mike Heyworth, Director, Council for British Archaeology,
Alistair Sommerlad, Chairman, Stonehenge and Avebury WHS Partnership Panel

Submitted by a Correspondent:

THE SELFIE – A SHORT HISTORY

VIP at SH

When in 1651, exactly 363 years ago yesterday,  Charles II visited Stonehenge he didn’t do it to cross it off his “Bucket List”. Charles didn’t take advantage of any “photo opportunity” moment, indeed he would have shunned recognition. Nor did he arrive with a massive entourage, his servants preferred Salisbury Fair.

What changed between the visit of Charles and the visit of Barack Obama in 2014, is the selfie – everyone increasingly wanting to write themselves into the story. To borrow from one of the American President’s predecessors: it is not what the present can do for Stonehenge, but what the monument can do for the present. As well as the long past, it is surely time for visitors to be reminded to spare the monument’s future a thought…

Well OK it’s a false headline, she was actually fined €600 for stubbing out a cigarette on the pristine beach of Alghero in Sardinia but it reminded us that we hadn’t finished ranting about how we British allow Stonehenge to be disrespected. Compare and contrast her cigarette stub with this…..

Solstice litter

How did we sleepwalk into a position where we tolerate treating our national icon in that way in full view of the rest of the world? On one day of the year only (no-one would dream of dropping a molecule of litter there on any of the other 364). There has to be a way to stop it and it’s clearly up to those who say they respect Stonehenge most to come up with a clear, practical proposal to achieve it. (Clue: numbers!)

Update 1 September 2014
EH has just announced the date for the next few Round Table meetings. Believe it or not there will be nine of them before next year’s summer solstice…..

Thu 2 October 2014
Thu 6 November 2014
Thu 4 December 2014
Thu 8 January 2015
Thu 5 February 2015
Thu 5 March 2015
Thu 2 April 2015
Thu 7 May 2015
Thu 4 June 2015

“Believe it or not” is an appropriate phrase because if they are like the ones held for the past decade they’ll only be concerned with minor matters or with endless, fruitless variations of “give us more access” followed by polite refusals (because agreeing to do so would conflict with EH’s statutory duty to protect). Not one of them, probably, will be concerned with the one thing that’s needed: restricting numbers so that adequate control can be maintained.

In answer to an enquiry from a user of The Modern Antiquarian forum English Heritage have made their position on climbing onto the stones at Stonehenge crystal clear. They point out they have no choice or discretion about not allowing people to touch the stones as they are “bound by the monument’s own government regulations under which the monument is protected” and that touching the stones is “a contravention of the regulations” and crucially, that the situation applies at all times without exception: “These regulations are still in place during the managed open access of the Solstices and Equinoxes”….“The law is clear: it is illegal to touch the stones and those who do so are committing a criminal offence”.

800px-Stonehenge84

As everyone knows though, at summer solstice when tens of thousands are crowded inside the circle English Heritage is simply unable to prevent scores of people clambering on the stones, as is always shown the next day in the world’s press. Some argue that the law is an ass and that touching is no big deal. On the other hand we heard recently that damage had been done at every one of a run of ten successive summer solstice gatherings. No doubt EH will clarify if that’s wrong.

There is probably only one long term solution, which is to limit the number of people inside the circle (although in the meantime it might be good for EH to grumble about the stone-clamberers the next day rather than announce everything went very well!). It’s all about restricting the number of people inside the circle to a manageable (and also a financially affordable) amount, and allowing everyone else to celebrate near but outside the circle.

But that in itself is a problem. While a lot of those who are truly devoted to Stonehenge – some Druids, pagans and others – might well be persuaded to support such a move what about the less committed – the thousands of one-off, slightly tipsy party-goers? Would they behave or would they see it as a return of Mrs Thatcher and insist on their “right” to go inside the stones to see the sunrise?

Who knows? It’s rather up to the committed people, the Druids, pagans and others to take a lead in proposing a “limited access” solution rather than endlessly banging on about “free and open access” which is quite clearly an impractical notion. It would certainly beat endless bellyaching about how badly EH runs the place and how hard done by they all are – and those of us who have to foot the enormous annual bill for the current shindig would be grateful too!

Incidentally, this year’s event was a right old shambles – see the latest Round Table debrief – including 3 lots of damage:

Curator of stones reported that someone has used a resin to draw a couple of numbers on the stones which is proving very difficult to remove. We need to focus on people doing this. Also in the last hour or so,chalk drawings were made on the stones. Lots of candle-wax, but even more worrying that people  were sticking chewing gum on the stones. Also excrement and effluence in the stones area.

https://www.facebook.com/notes/stonehenge-law-planning-library/eh-summer-solstice-2014-debrief/566597433446707

“Well ‘Skip Jackson’, who put your name on the Heelstone, you certainly have your immortality now, don’t you? It certainly was a bit of a shambles this year in particular, with some baggy-tracksuited drunk prancing on top of the stones for a while, and a nastier atmosphere than last year, perhaps because of more sotted youngsters. It has been getting progressively worse damage-wise, anyway–last year someone holding a ‘ritual’ poured oil onto the Heelstone, which sank into the porous sandstone,left a big mark and killed the lichen…”

The Government’s Autumn statement will take place in early December. It will contain the results of the current feasibility study into ways in which congestion on the A303, including the section around Stonehenge, can be eased. It appears that there is a real determination to resolve the issue – perhaps because it has been calculated that many votes will be lost by not doing so – and it can therefore be anticipated that unlike previous studies this one will be speedily acted upon.

Hence it’s likely that a tunnel is well and truly back on the agenda and could actually be built, not just talked about.  So will it be the “short tunnel” rather than a long one? It’s a fair bet it will be for if the question was “will it be an expensive or less expensive one” no-one would be in any doubt about the answer. Yet no clues are being given. Indeed, English Heritage who are pushing for a tunnel “with all our strength” won’t tell us which tunnel they favour.

We’ve been repeatedly banging on about this for some time  – see here – but at the risk of repeating ourselves ad nauseam and for the avoidance of all possible doubt, a short tunnel will be massively damaging – so said not us but almost every archaeological and heritage organisation the last time it was proposed. It would be nice if they all started banging on about it NOW, and didn’t wait until December when the die is cast and the chances of changing anything will have all but disappeared.

Oh, and just in case the subject should suddenly be on everyone’s lips in early December (as we have a sinking feeling it may be) a tunnel that is slightly longer than a short one is still a short one, and is still massively damaging…..!

English Heritage have just bought three buses to supplement the land trains at Stonehenge which have proved highly problematical and inadequate. Hopefully this will solve at a stroke many of the difficulties that have marred the opening six months of the new visitor experience. Like all human beings we really, really hate to say we told you so but we have to say – we told you so! Here’s the Heritage Journal, 25th April 2010, commenting on a Wiltshire Council Strategic Planning Department document on  “a proposed land train between the new visitor centre and the stones”:

So why not just use buses? These days there are as many environment-friendly innovations applying to them as to land trains – electric, hybrid, low-impact, you name it. And in addition, they are arguably just as or more flexible, inexpensive, safe, weatherproof, robust, long-lasting, reliable and easy to load – and they have a pretty small turning circle (hence require only a small footprint near the stones). Half a dozen of those and the job could be done – with no expensive, exclusive maintenance agreements with manufacturers, no equally expensive “custom built” elements – and let’s face it, buses are rather well-tested technology so they’d definitely give a high degree of reliability.

Smug

Smug

...

.

The minutes of  the Stonehenge Round Table meetings rarely disappoint. The latest contain this, under the heading “Special Access”: “A Forum member reported that he had seen a group in the stones during the hours of darkness on 22nd June 2013. He enquired as to who this group were and why they were allowed in the stones at this time. He expressed concerns over their form of worship. ACTION: LB to look into this with NB and report back to member.”

This seems to be about something we mentioned last August“It is reported that a group that was let into Stonehenge to greet the sunrise a few Sundays back (on Midsummers Day, not at the main solstice gathering) was heard from some distance away loudly chanting “Hail Satan”. If so, should it be welcomed as an excellent manifestation of “inclusivity and multivocality”? Or is it just bonkers? Not the fact the Dark Lord was being greeted (or called to appear? who knows?) but the fact that they were let in for free. Does it mean anything at all gets you in gratis?”

It’s a puzzle why anyone should be raking over very hot coals after all this time. Is someone intending to ask EH to decide that Satan and all his hosts shouldn’t be let in to the stones for free at taxpayers’ expense? That would be an outrage as it would involve discriminating against them on religious grounds. What’s more, Satanists have precisely the same degree of proven connection with Stonehenge and the reason it was built as everyone else who attends the solstice event and indeed as every Round Table attendee, no more and no less. It’s their temple too if they say so. In fact, shouldn’t EH write to Satan and invite him to attend all future Round Table meetings?

Update…. Just noticed, EH’s official line is: “During Managed Open Access for Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, we support all individuals and groups conducting their own forms of ceremony and celebration providing that they are mutually respectful and tolerant of one another.” So all that remains to be decided is whether Satan is mutually respectful and tolerant.

As you may have noticed, we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of what the Government’s renewed enthusiasm to sort out the A303 actually involves – and particularly whether it would mean a tunnel at Stonehenge – and very particularly whether it would be a “long tunnel” or a hugely damaging “short tunnel”.

The last time the latter was mooted just about every archaeological and heritage organisation except English Heritage opposed it yet it almost went ahead regardless and was only cancelled when the world plunged into a financial crisis. Now the economy has improved, the pressure to sort out the congestion has built up once again and, by various accounts, technology has made tunnelling much cheaper. The Government is giving out strong signals it’s going to do something major and English Heritage has been expressing enthusiasm for “a tunnel” but our attempts to get them to say which tunnel they were thinking of when they said they were fighting for one (including via a Freedom of Information request) have been unsuccessful.

Something like this? It's not the tunnel that matters but where the approach roads are built

Something like this? It’s not the tunnel that matters but where the approach roads are built

TUNNELS

It’s to be hoped that The National Trust, which was strongly opposed to the previous short tunnel would be equally opposed to any new proposal for one.  Unfortunately they are yet to say so. Instead, there’s this:

“Like many we recognise there are real problems at Stonehenge and we have for many years supported the principle of improving the road network in order to improve the road and the quality of the environment across the Stonehenge Landscape. Some people are insisting change is needed to ease congestion levels no matter what the impact on the landscape. At the Trust we believe that the current round of road improvements might provide an opportunity to finally give Stonehenge the scheme it deserves and that means a world class solution for a world class place. We will be engaging very closely with the Government and our key partners over the next year to ensure we help to protect this very special place.”

Let’s hope they’ll say what they really think very soon, i.e. that their view hasn’t changed, and can’t: a short tunnel at Stonehenge is still unacceptable. The fact they say Stonehenge deserves “a world class solution” pretty much telegraphs what they think already. Hooray for them! You’d rather be in a position where you’re defending that assertion than be a hapless English Heritage press officer chewing their pencil over how to phrase “we support the Government’s wish to impose a damaging solution”!

Archives

October 2014
S M T W T F S
« Sep    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Follow Us

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Facebook

Twitter Feed

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,632 other followers

%d bloggers like this: