We have been invited by Doug Rocks-McQueen to once again participate in the Archaeology Blogging Carnival. This year’s theme is ‘Archaelogy’s Greatest Challenges’, and so we herewith humbly submit our own contribution:
It’s no secret that in 2016 and beyond the short tunnel debate will become progressively more passionate and complex. However, there’s a fundamental truth looming over it that hasn’t been fully debated but which will have to be properly addressed. It’s that under Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention Britain has committed itself to the protection and conservation of the whole Stonehenge World Heritage Site. “Protection” is the action of protecting, or the state of being protected and its antonyms are harm and destruction. “Conservation” is the act of preserving, guarding or protecting and it has exactly the same antonyms, harm and destruction.
You will have heard (from EH, NT et al) lots of talk about a “once in a generation chance” and enhancing, improving and restoring, and about minimising new damage and delivering a better situation for traffic, pedestrians and skylarks. But there’s a fundamental unvoiced problem. None of those aspirations, whether they’re beneficial or not, is protection or conservation and it’s an undeniable fact that no matter how or where a short tunnel is designed or positioned it WOULD involve substantial harm and destruction, which are the antonyms of protection and conservation.
Hence, it’s surely the case that if we wish to abide by the Convention we simply can’t build a short tunnel (or indeed construct surface dual carriageways). On the other hand, if we are determined to go ahead we’ll have to ditch the Convention. Or flout it. Or use fancy words to lie about what we thought it meant when we signed it. Anyone who has followed what EH and The Trust have been saying will know that process has started, with frankly partial and selective accounts being employed to win the public over.
It would be great if 2016 saw a rising tide of archaeologists, lawyers and others saying hang on a moment, have you actually read what the Convention says? The Stonehenge Alliance has already done so and the CBA and others – notably ICOMOS UK, have indicated that they are very troubled about how building a short tunnel can be reconciled with our Convention commitments. It’s likely they will need a lot more than lyrical words and videos to convince them a short tunnel is supportable.
It would be easy to justify building a short tunnel if the Convention was ambiguous. But it’s all too clear, so we anticipate that some desperate tactics and interpretations will be put forward. A compliant Attorney General and a dodgy dossier are not unknown in our recent history, so who knows? Something reminiscent of a dodgy dossier at least, seems already to exist – the scary and false claim that if a short tunnel can’t be had a surface dual carriageway may be imposed. Fortunately the Stonehenge Alliance has utterly discredited that, rather forensically!
Nevertheless the short tunnel agenda has many powerful supporters and we can anticipate all sorts of claims. In particular, look out for a re-working of the Vietnam war quotation, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it”. We are confident a version of that will be voiced: “It was necessary to cause damage to the World Heritage Site in order to unify and enhance it.” Unfortunately for the short tunnel supporters the Convention doesn’t offer the option to interpret its provisions creatively merely because to do so would be financially convenient. No matter how it is dressed up a short tunnel would break the solemn promise we’ve made to the world.