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Did you know that the Boskednan Nine Maidens circle in Cornwall is the subject of an opera, written early in the 20th century? The opera is “Iernin”, the tragic story of a woman of the Small People. The opera in three acts is set against the backdrop of a soon-to-be occupied Cornwall and the struggle of its leader and people to retain their independence from the Saxon overlords. Read the rest of this entry »
Despite massive criticism of the cultural damage the short tunnel will cause the Government has just let slip that they’re not interested. John Hayes, the Minister at the Department for Transport has just told Parliament:
“Whilst option F010 [a surface road beyond the southern edge of the Stonehenge World Heritage site] performed better than the tunnel options against the Cultural Heritage objective, it performed worse against the other objectives.” Translated as: “we admit the short tunnel is the most culturally damaging but we are going to be guided by yardsticks other than that!”
Full marks for honesty, at least. At last. Shame there was a Consultation as it seems it was a farce. Nothing ICOMOS-UK, independent experts or the public have said about cultural damage is to be heeded. Finance will be the final determinant. It was ever thus.
So says The Telegraph – see here. It certainly seems likely and we proposed something similar in November when we said:
By all that’s right and rational the Stonehenge tunnel should have been conceived, proposed and designed by a ẁide panel of respected archaeologists. But no, it was all down to this bloke, looking for votes…..
He and his team wanted it cheap. Which means short. But that gave them a PR problem because “short” also means “horribly damaging to the WHS”. However, that wasn’t insurmountable. All they needed was a sufficient number of archaeologists in receipt of Government funding or patronage to say such damage is acceptable. Which, as is clear to all, they’ve obtained.
It’s a political tunnel and was neither conceived, designed nor blessed by the likes of Martin Carver, Francis Pryor, Colin Renfrew, Tim Darvill, Josh Pollard, or Vince Gaffney. In Tom Holland’s words, Stonehenge has been “offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of electioneering“. It’s as simple and shameful as that. It should go the way of its originator.
Whitehall’s spending watchdog has suggested that sixteen upgrades to England’s busiest roads could be scrapped because they do not represent value for money. See details here. Great news for Stonehenge World Heritage Site, so long as value for money is given its proper meaning…….
Is it value for money to spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money on a tunnel that would cause almost incalculable damage to a World Heritage site?
Is it value for money to spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money to remove the public’s favourite free view of Stonehenge?
Is it value for money to spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money on a road scheme that doesn’t include spending a single penny on direct traffic calming in the local villages?
Is it value for money to spend £1.3 billion of taxpayer’s money to grant the National Trust’s wish for a theme park walk?
If those questions are properly asked then there’s no way spending £1.3 billion can be justified. What’s more, if the tunnel scheme is cancelled there will be no negative impact whatsoever on the cultural value of the World Heritage Site. Only a false, illusory, let’s-pretend vision will shatter. As indeed it should.
You’d think, when massive new damage to our national icon is being proposed, details would be open to public scrutiny, especially the considered thoughts of the Historic England Commission, the body pushing the scheme. After all, brief platitudinous press releases and dubious public consultations don’t really serve the need. So you might be concerned by two items in their December 2015 Minutes:
12.1: Transparency and publishing Commission minutes
“Staff had considered the approach of other organisations in publishing Board papers. Commission approved the proposal to have one set of Commission minutes that would be published on the HE website once approved at the following meeting. Public and protective markings would be removed from agenda, reports and minutes.“
To clarify, they are removing some items from public scrutiny but not marking them as removed. In other words, you won’t be allowed to know which things you haven’t been allowed to know. That’s double locked censorship! And, lest you think we might be mistaken, here’s exactly the same thing being achieved in a different way:
13.1: Closed session for Commissioners and Chief Executive only
“This item was a closed session for Commissioners and the Chief Executive only.
There is no record of the discussion.”
May we suggest that when it comes to a tunnel at Stonehenge there’s no reason for anything the Historic England Commissioners discuss to be kept secret from the public?
The contrast between Stonehenge kidology and Stonehenge plain truth has been on clear display in this week’s BBC Future article.
Kidology #1: Phil McMahon (Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Historic England): “The perfect result for a scheme like this is that they avoid great archaeology rather than dig it up.” Sounds great! We can all agree with that! And he hammers it home by saying that the team “have already made a number of important finds that have been fed back into the plans”. But here’s the thing: “fed back into the plans” doesn’t mean something important in the way won’t be destroyed. Fact! So the public are being kidded. What Historic England don’t say is that if they come across “great archaeology” they’ll make a big diversion round it or cancel the project. Because they won’t.
Kidology #2: Highways England Structural Engineer Derek Parody says the scheme “represents a golden opportunity to add to the knowledge of this much-studied site”. Nice for a structural engineer to be concerned to add to archaeological knowledge. Trouble is, we have long memories. Ten years ago almost to the day Tarmac’s quarry manager Bob Nicholson said exactly the same thing in support of ripping up the Thornborough Henges landscape (in fact he said Tarmac’s archaeological investigations were more thorough than some of English Heritage’s on the Stonehenge World Heritage Site!) Do they teach kidology in engineering college?! Whatever engineers say, it’s not an opportunity it’s something that is being forced on society.
Now the “plain truth” part of the article. There are two, both from Professor Vince Gaffney.
Plain Truth #1: He points out (and who knows better?) that technology has not yet evolved to the point where it can uncover all of Stonehenge’s secrets. So much for the Historic England claim that “the perfect result for a scheme like this is that they avoid great archaeology rather than dig it up.” It’s nonsense, they can’t ensure that outcome as they lack the technology to do so. Professor Gaffney goes on: “The work that we did was invaluable, but the landscape is not the sum of the things that you dig and build. How would you tell that thousands of people would have been at Stonehenge in the Neolithic period? All they dropped was stone and we can’t see it because it’s under grass. Yet that might be the most important part of the archaeology.”
Plain Truth #2: Professor Gaffney frames the second truth as a devastatingly simple statement, one which neither Historic England nor Highways England nor the Government dare to address: “The landscape is structured around the monument – you shouldn’t be buggering around with the astronomic alignment and impacting on how people will experience it.”
Archaeologist Dr George Nash of the Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort group, puts it in a nutshell:
“I can’t accept that in a rural county like Shropshire, and particularly north Shropshire, we need this heavy impetus for building,” he said. “But if we are going to toe the line then we need affordable housing – housing that people can truly afford and on brownfield sites. Our heritage is under great threat from the too much development put in the wrong place. Every settlement, every village should help bear the load of the housing with new homes dispersed over the county rather than centred on the urban areas.”
Who can deny it? Or that the policy of allowing development next to Oswestry Hill Fort is entirely against the interests of the people of Oswestry and of Shropshire and indeed of Britain. But more to the point, it’s very, very dodgy.
By the way, here’s another parcel of land currently on sale adjacent to the Hill Fort but on the other side.
They wouldn’t, would they? Well, the sales particulars say “The land offers itself for a variety of uses to include agricultural, amenity, equestrian and the potential for future residential development (subject to gaining planning permission)” and this IS the most contemptible local authority in Britain – so who knows?