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The tender document for the construction of the new Visitor Centre has been released. One aspect is of particular concern, the amount of space devoted to different functions. In particular:

Retail, Catering and Back of House facilities:       1,380 sq m
Interpretation and Education:                                600 sq m

It seems a  disappointing outcome to all the years of discussion, argument, public enquiries and expense, to end up with a building where more than twice as much space is devoted to providing meals, memorabilia and “back of house ” facilities than to actually interpreting the monument for visitors. Shouldn’t the figures be the opposite way round and wasn’t the reason for dispensing with the old facilities and building the new ones the undignified commercial atmosphere and the dearth of interpretative space – in fact haven’t we heard little else for years? Yet the figures tell a very different story – a million visitors a year will arrive yet only two and a bit tennis courts-worth of space is being provided for interpreting the monument for them. 

So has something changed? Previously, both the Government and English Heritage have made it perfectly plain that the purpose of the project is “to restore the landscape and create a world class interpretation centre”. To put what is now actually proposed into perspective, the area for interpretation of our national icon will be only 25% larger than the area being proposed for toilets. And the Mountfitchet Toy Museum is larger!

A couple of months ago we wrote this about the way the new Visitors Centre was to be financed:
“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?

Is this the price? Will it transpire that the “philanthropists” are connected with the retail and catering trades and their philanthropy focuses on that and upon back of house facilities rather than on interpretation and education? We shall soon know.

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