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The long-awaited transformation of the Stonehenge landscape is finally within grasp, John Penrose, Minister for Tourism and Heritage said today, as government support was announced putting the project back on track.”

All good stuff. Ministers with good news are like nursery school kids bringing home their first painting!  But we have some issues that we’d like clarifying before we join in the Minister for Tourism’s excitement. They concern the other half of his job, Heritage. Sorry to nitpick, it’s just that brave new visions for Stonehenge have been announced many times before and none of them was real.

First, the major concerns about the Visitor Centre expressed by the Stonehenge Alliance are yet to be publicly addressed, one way or another. They have objected to the Road Orders on the grounds that they objected to the visitor centre proposals and they said at their recent meeting with English Heritage: “[they] could not accept the damaging proposals for the new visitor centre and a well-lit roundabout close by as a trade off: such proposals would be contrary to HMG’s commitments in respect of the World Heritage Convention, as well as planning policy.”

Second, all sorts of details have been left unexplained – including the exact nature of the transit system (will it look naff and unworthy of our national icon or not?), the fences (will there really be free access to the stones, it seems highly problematical, yet no-one has come clean about what’s intended) and did the English Heritage Chief Executive really mean it when he called the Visitors’ Centre  a “museum”?

Third, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment has expressed considerable reservations about the design of the Visitors Centre which clearly need resolving – “we have concerns about both the strategic and detailed approach to both landscape and architecture which we feel need to be addressed before planning permission is granted”….. “Our questions are about the extent to which the scheme fulfils its potential to support and intensify the visitor experience of a visit to the Stones. We feel that more work is needed before this critical potential is achieved.”

Fourth, this extra money is to come from “private philanthropy” (that’s the new Big Society approach to funding major capital projects says the Government). Great, we’re all in favour of philanthropy. But we’d like to know exactly WHO will be the Stonehenge philanthropists.

And will there be a price?

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