You are currently browsing the daily archive for 13/12/2009.

Starlit Stonehenge. Image credit Jane Tomlinson

A few days ago this exciting solstice event was mentioned in English Heritage’s news

Trouble is, months ago the OTHER joint organisers, the Royal Astronomical Society, made sure astronomy buffs knew all about it so they were all well aware of the joint website about it and the need to book a place early.  You can still go to the exhibition but the bit that needed booking was this:

“On each of the four evenings, a maximum of 48 people will have the opportunity to visit the interior of the stone circle after sunset, which is not normally allowed. Guided by astronomers and archaeologists, you will enter the site at 16:30, as the sky is darkening, and be able to remain until 17:30.”

Pre-booking was stressed as essential and guess what? Tickets got snapped up. And now  the joint website says (unsurprisingly) “We regret that bookings are now closed.”

We wonder how many of the 4×48 lucky ticket holders are astronomy buffs and how many are megaraks? And have the megaraks been well served? After all, arguably, this is the best event that has been held at Stonehenge for millenia! Is the view of the stars from inside Stonehenge more significant to astronomy enthusiasts than to  prehistory enthusiasts? Are YOU going? Did you even get the chance?

English Heritage committee members recently opined that “public benefit”, “economic benefit” and “other benefits” should be combined into a single term in the government’s new planning guidelines!

Members felt that the phrase ‘public benefits’ should be used with caution, due to the difficulty in defining how public benefit is judged. It was suggested that one single term could possibly be used to cover ‘public benefit’, ‘economic benefit’ and other benefits, although recognising the difficulty in settling upon an agreed term”
(From Section 6.4.b of the minutes of the English Heritage Advisory Committee, September 2009, discussing the government’s draft New Planning Policy Statement on Planning for the Historic Environment.

Sad and telling that our statutory heritage champion is anxious that a single phrase is used for “public benefit”, “economic benefit” and “other benefit”. One could ask “who is likely to gain massively from such a deliberate lack of clarity? The public or people that are out to make money?” An answer was supplied at Thornborough. And the Rotherwas Ribbon. And Bond’s Garage, Avebury (and on almost a weekly basis with insolent openness in Ireland). In each case there was enormous “benefit” (as the unified phrase might indicate) yet in each case it was private monetary benefit at the expense of public heritage benefit.

So, should there be a single phrase to describe such happenings? “Benefit gained”?  Hardly! Not outside the pages of 1984. Bad idea, not distinguishing economic benefit from cultural benefit as clearly as possible on every occasion that arises (or claiming it’s too difficult to even try!)

Here is the Thornborough complex, unique in the world. The majority of it’s surroundings have now been destroyed. For gravel. So should what happened there be thought of as a murky mix of “public benefit’, ‘economic benefit’ and other benefits”? We think not! Heritage assets were destroyed so there is no public cultural benefit. There is gravel in loads of places in Britain so there is no public economic benefit. So the only benefit that accrued were the “other benefits” – in other words, the financial benefit to Tarmac PLC. Truths such as that ought to be kept crystal clear ought they not since it was THAT benefit, and that benefit alone, that the planning system combined with the protection system delivered there after much deliberation and virtuous talk!


December 2009

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