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This week we said Mike Pitts had scolded people who worry about a tunnel portal. But scolded is too mild. He said the Stonehenge Alliance acted like “the archaeological wing of Donald Trump’s social media campaign” and their leaflet imagery was “worthy of Putin-supporting trolls”. Hmmm. We know some of the members of the Stonehenge Alliance and they are dedicated, well-informed and genteel and not how he seeks to portray them. Hope that’s now crystal clear.
On the other hand, we find Mr Pitts’ account of why that trench was dug exactly on the solstice line far from crystal clear. Specifically this: “In this particular case thirty trenches were dug over a wide area south of the A303. If each trench was a sign of where a tunnel would end, we’d have a portal that reached half way across the world heritage site.” But the question remains: if there’s no chance whatsoever a portal will be located on the solstice sunset line why has one of the trenches been dug exactly on that line?
An explanation from the authorities would be appropriate, one that doesn’t involve belittling legitimate stakeholders.
“all this stuff about portals and midwinter sunsets is premature. Currently routes are being identified – not decided on ….. There will be a public consultation next year. If I was an objector, I’d wait until next year. At least I’d know what it was I was objecting to, always a help in these things…..
I don’t think Highways would be able to secretly put a tunnel portal just where the sun sets at midwinter. The eagle-eyed people at Icomos would notice. [The Heritage Journal] “could have said that as HE, EH and the NT want to protect and enhance the world heritage site, it’s unlikely they would’ve wanted the tunnel portal there. But where’s the fun in that?”
Well Mr Pitts,
First, please be assured there’s no fun in worrying a tunnel portal may be built on the solstice line. It’s a sincere concern which we share with many people, OK?
Second, thanks for the advice to wait, not worry but we’d prefer to exercise our democratic and natural right to worry, not wait.
Third, a fundamental reason why we are worrying is because HE, EH and the NT are welcoming the idea of a 1.8 mile long tunnel inside a 3.5 mile wide WHS – which is not an indication of wanting “to protect and enhance” this special landscape but quite the opposite.
However, since you seem to be in close touch with them you are perhaps in a position to help. Rather than scold legitimate stakeholders for being worried without cause, please ask those three bodies to publicly announce that they would all resolutely oppose the placing of a tunnel portal anywhere near the line of the solstice sunset. If they won’t, please respect the public’s right to worry. Simple really. We’ll watch with interest.
Historic England says the Stonehenge tunnel would be “the biggest single investment ever made by Government in this country’s heritage.” No. It was always a road investment. For avoidance of doubt: the Government’s published purpose was “to turn the A303 into a strategic corridor to the south-west” (and of course, to get votes!) It was subsequently painted as a heritage investment by the 3 bodies trying to put lipstick on a pig.
Neither “heritage” nor anything like it passed David Cameron’s lips when he visited the site for the announcement. In fact, he let the moggy out of the bag that day. Just after being briefed by the Highways Agency and the Trust he stated, unconvincingly: “It’s quite a long tunnel but I think that’s what makes it such a successful plan”. No David! They may have told you it’s quite a long tunnel but actually it’s a far too short tunnel for conservation purposes and that’s what makes it a disastrous plan and one of the biggest single destructive actions ever made by Government against this country’s heritage!
Surprise, surprise! A planning application has just been submitted to North Yorkshire County Council by Tarmac applying to extend its Nosterfield Quarry. As part of it, it is proposing to ‘gift’ to an appropriate body in perpetuity control of the Central and Southern henges. Sounds kind. Until you recall that Tarmac has wrecked most of the landscape of the henges already. And that giving gifts has long been part of its strategy….
In July 2005 the Journal reported that “In an attempt to appease local opposition a strip of land between Thornborough Moor and Nosterfield has been offered to the village for recreational purposes” and the next month it was reported they’d offered to donate 60 acres of land around the Northern Henge to the nation. However, six months later we were reporting the other side of the story: “Quarrying in the vicinity of the Thornborough Henges has caused widespread concern for many years. About half of the original complex has been destroyed, a landfill site is being operated immediately adjacent to the central monuments and quarrying is still ongoing close by at Nosterfield, also within the monument complex”.
So Tarmac’s latest gesture isn’t something to celebrate greatly. Gifting control of the Central and Southern Henges is no big deal since they are scheduled and can’t be quarried – and indeed are probably a burden to be responsible for. So it’s probably best to think of Tarmac more as a crocodile, to be treated with caution not gratitude. Just over ten years ago we quoted our colleague, Thornborough campaigner George Chaplin. His words turned out to be prophetic: “Tarmac have not given up in their ambition to extend the existing quarry. They intend to appeal against the refusal and the danger remains very real for the whole of the remaining surroundings”.
What is widely accepted as Stonehenge’s central purpose and significance, the spectacle of the winter solstice sunset as seen from the stones, is under threat from the UK bodies charged with protecting the World Heritage Site. Will it soon be dulled and outshone and the iconic final flash be lost in an intense glow or even direct beams of light coming from the entrance dual carriageway of a too-short tunnel just 800 metres away? Is this how it will be?
If the tunnel entrance is built where digging is currently happening we’ll surely be robbed of the ability to “go back in time” and experience what the builders of Stonehenge intended. The Chairman of Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust, Andy Rhind-Tutt, has just put it with great clarity: “If they are going to put a tunnel in and it came out where they are exploring at the moment, you’re going to have this glow coming off the ground as the sun sets, so it would destroy the whole purpose and meaning of Stonehenge.”
As always, the public are being treated like fools. Highways England say they are “still looking at all options” and this is “just one part of a wide range of surveys” yet it has always been clear from the maps that if a short tunnel is to be built then the spot which is currently being dug is the lead probability – indeed, the almost inevitable position for the western portal. Just watch, they haven’t arranged a dig there for no reason. Meanwhile, English Heritage has dutifully repeated the same completely misleading phrase it has used ad nauseam for many months: it supports a tunnel “if it is designed and delivered well“.
The bitter truth though is that a short tunnel can’t be designed and delivered “well” and that glow and those lights can’t be spun away. English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust are in the excruciating position of trying to put lipstick on a pig. Please sign and share The Stonehenge Alliance’s petition, it really is important if something very precious and more than four thousand years old isn’t to be stolen.
PS….. It has just been pointed out to us that in the BBC article that quotes Andy Rhind Tutt’s comment there is also the assertion that earlier this year a Unesco report backed the idea of a short tunnel. It’s a total lie and it was the second yowling moggy. We dealt with it here: https://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2016/04/08/can-icomos-be-got-at/
Hard to believe, but true. Even though Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust say they are committed to ensure that “only schemes which protect and enhance the World Heritage Site are progressed” it has just been revealed that Wessex Archaeology are secretly test digging (see this) at the very spot where the entrance to one version of the route would be and it’s at the very place where it would do maximum damage to the significance of Stonehenge:
[Hat tip to Tim Daw]
Ask English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust, they’ll all confirm that the central purpose of Stonehenge was the alignment with the winter solstice sunset as seen at that very spot. Yet the bizarre situation has arisen whereby they are all three pushing for a short tunnel which would involve the visible evidence of the central meaning of Stonehenge being destroyed.