Many people would consider the best approach to Avebury by road is along the A4 from Marlborough – the same route Charles II and the future James II followed when they visited in 1663. If you’re an Avebury enthusiast it’s quite likely you feel a thrill of anticipation driving up the hill past the World Heritage Site sign with the first line of barrows visible on the ridge ahead. The approach is almost perfect except for a rather unfortunately placed ex-British Telecom brick building out in the field on the right. But now there’s an application to erect a large grain store within the actual boundaries of the World Heritage Site that would intrude on the approach even more.

You can read the various submissions that have been made about it here.  They aren’t supportive……

English Nature says “We note that the application falls within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and due to the scale and nature of the development has the potential to have a significant negative impact on this North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty….. We consequently object to this application pending submission of a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment.”

English Heritage say much the same thing – that it is well within the Avebury World Heritage Site and would have a visual influence on the setting of a large number of (named) scheduled monuments (including the five round barrows close to the Sanctuary) and full consideration would require photomontages from key heritage receptors” because as the application stands itlooks inappropriate for the World Heritage Site”.

Fyfield & West Overton Parish Council seem to feel less obliged to wait for a formal Visual Impact Assessment and says it objects to the application, plain and simple – The proposed building would have a significant adverse effect on the landscape, and the views and visual amenity of this undeveloped area. The proposed location is an extremely sensitive one, not only visually but also from the point of the view of the historic and archaeologically rich landscape. This is reflected in its designation as part of the Avebury & Stonehenge World Heritage Site and as part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Nor were we able to discern from the application why a building of such size would be needed to service local farmland, or needed in this sensitive location, or how it would make a significant contribution to the rural economy or social well-being of the area. The Council noted that the proposal would adversely affect the setting of a number of ancient monuments nearby. The council also had concerns about the highway safety implications, given the potential number of vehicle movements at the site, and about night-time light pollution in this open and highly visible location, given the proposed requirement for 24 hour access.

But perhaps the clearest points are made by the World Heritage Site officerPPS5 policy HE9.1 groups WHSs among designated assets of the highest significance to which harm should be wholly exceptional”…… “HH3, the saved Local Plan policy on the Avebury World Heritage Site, states that developments that will harm the historic landscape, archaeological features or visual setting will not be permitted.”….. “In paragraph 6.16 it is stated that the protection of the WHS should take precedence over all other demands for development and the use of land in the area.”

“For applications of this scale within such a sensitive landscape a visual impact assessment would be appropriate [but] Even without such assessments it is possible to identify the likelihood for significant harm as the location is visible from a range of viewpoints. There are long views to the area from a number of monuments including attributes of OUV such as the group of five round barrows that are part of the Overton Hill round barrow cemetery that lies within 400 m of the proposal. Other Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments whose setting would be affected include a Bronze Age bowl barrow east of the Ridgeway forming part the same group and the Fowler’s Neolithic ‘Crawford Complex’ (Landscape Plotted and Pieced, 2000).”

“The large grain store, drier and associated hard standing would create a significant block deisgn , industrial element in the landscape setting of these monuments. The development would become a dominant feature in the open downland detracting from the WHS and its OUV. The Statement of OUV describes the WHS as a landscape without parallel in which visitors are still able to appreciate the location, setting and interrelationships of monuments still dominant in the rural landscape. Such an intrusive proposal in a currently undeveloped area would detract from this attribute of OUV”…… “In addition to the design and mass of the development, the associated noise, activity, and potential light pollution would represent loss of tranquility and damage to night skies”…..

“Screening with trees would be unlikely to be effective and create an additional intrusion in the open downland character of the landscape setting in this area. Neither does it represent a reliable, future proof approach to concealing intrusive new development or change in the setting which detracts from the significance of the monument or wider WHS. The lifespan of trees makes it a temporary measure and one subject to the vagaries of disease and climate change. It cannot be relied upon for meeting the international obligation of transmitting the OUV of the WHS to future generations.”

Translated into megarak street talk that says: never mind visual impact assessments, it didn’t oughta happen – and “compromise” solutions like reducing its size or planting a screen of trees shouldn’t happen either.

So fingers crossed. It is to be hoped that the professionals can prevent philistine District councillors allowing the finest road approach to Avebury to be blighted.  Improvements along the route have included doing away with an unsightly cafe and (recently) putting some telegraph poles underground at huge expense, so allow the addition of a big grain store would be to reverse the policy and undo all that good work.