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In 1849 a young relative of Wordsworth, Emmeline Fisher, wrote Lines on the Opening of Silbury Hill, a poetic apology to the ancestors for an excavation that was going on at that time into the “Green Pyramid of the plains, from far-ebbed Time” as she called it. It commenced:

Bones of our wild forefathers, O forgive,
If now we pierce the chambers of your rest,
And open your dark pillows to the eye
Of the irreverent Day!

We think there may be a much more significant apology due soon, for the gouging of a mile of new dual carriageway through Europe’s most important prehistoric landscape at Stonehenge and the stealing of the free view of the stones currently enjoyed by millions of travellers a year. We’ll all be long gone when the full scale of the loss is fully understood by a future possessing technology inconceivably more sophisticated than ours.

So, we would like to announce a poetry competition, in the form of an apology to the future. The winning entry or entries will be put in an envelope sealed with red wax and placed in a ceramic urn, just like Emmeline’s was, and buried just outside the World Heritage site, an apology for posterity to find!

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Entries please, no longer than 10 lines, with your own choice of title. We’ll publish some of them here in the Journal and elsewhere and the winner will be chosen by a committee drawn from some of the many organisations and groups who have worked so hard for so long to stop this dreadful scheme going ahead. Then, if the worst happens, on the day the first bulldozer is deployed, we will bury the apologies as described. Please send your entries to info@heritageaction.org.uk  Good luck!

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Dear Heritage Journal,

I’ve just seen on BBC iplayer a very interesting programme about the Oseberg Viking Burial Ship. This is one of Norway’s most prized archaeological finds due to the extraordinarily well-preserved 1,200-year-old artefacts. Amazingly around 90% of the original longship has been preserved for display, complete with most of the ornately detailed carvings on the boat. All of this preservation is because the site remained permanently damp for 1,200 years and so a lot could be preserved, carbon-dated, and accurately interpreted.

The reason I am saying this is because in Britain we have a hugely important and rich archaeological site which has remained continuously damp for over 10,000 years. That site is called Blick Mead and it is just beginning to reveal how hunter-gatherers evolved to become the culture of people who built the wider Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

Despite its importance, the British Government, English Heritage, and National Trust think it’s acceptable to bore a massive tunnel with a four-lane dual carriageway and a flyover very close to it. Even though it is a scientific fact that this will eventually dry out Blick Mead and seriously damage it – forever!

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More money is needed in the fight against the Stonehenge short tunnel scheme which hands a near-monopoly over even seeing Stonehenge to a quango. If you possibly can, please contribute to the fight opposing it here. ___________________________________________________________

Following last week’s news that a date has been set for the High Court challenge against the decision to go ahead with the tunnel at Stonehenge, SSWHS issued a further press release as follows:

Dear supporter,

Success at the first hurdle! On Wednesday (24th Feb) we learnt that our challenge to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ shocking decision to go ahead with the A303 Stonehenge scheme would be heard in the High Court on 23 – 25 June.

Apart from the Department for Transport defending our challenge, Highways England and Historic England will also be taking part as interested parties.

We’re contesting the decision on the following grounds:

* Harm to each heritage asset within the project should have been weighed in the balance, instead of considering the “historic environment” as a whole.

* None of the advice provided by Historic England provided the evidential basis for the Secretary of State’s conclusion of “less than substantial harm” to any of the assets impacted by the project.

* He allowed purported “heritage benefits” to be weighed against heritage harm, before deciding whether that overall harm was “substantial” or “less than substantial”, which was unlawful under the National Policy Statement

* He failed to take into account that development consent would breach the World Heritage Convention

* He left out of account mandatory material considerations: the breach of various local policies; the impact of his finding of heritage harm which undermined the business case for the proposal and the existence of at least one alternative

Thanks to your generosity we reached our initial target of £50,000 very quickly and this enabled us to go forward with the necessary preparation work for the judicial review. However, due to the complicated nature of the case and the amount of work needed for a three-day hearing, we are having to raise our target to £80,000. We hope you understand and feel able to continue to support us. Legal action is expensive and although our lawyers are working for us at a heavily discounted rate, costs mount up. We also have to bear in mind that any decision could be appealed which we would potentially have to fundraise for as well.

Nevertheless, we are firmly committed to the fight to save Stonehenge World Heritage Site from irreparable damage and with your help we have successfully negotiated the first hurdle. Now we need to prepare for the hearing.

Thanks for your support so far, we cannot do this without you.

With best wishes,

John, Mike, Chris and Kate

Donations are still being accepted on the SSWHS CrowdJustice page. Please donate if you are able, every penny helps.

Save Stonehenge WHS Ltd. (SSWHS – a company established by individual Stonehenge Alliance supporters to take forward the legal action) heard this week that a three-day High Court hearing will take place from 23rd to 25th June. SSWHS is challenging Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to go ahead with the highly damaging A303 dual carriageway through the World Heritage Site (WHS). His decision was taken against the advice of a panel of five senior Planning Inspectors (the Examining Authority) who formally examined the scheme in 2019.

The Inspectors considered that the scheme’s benefits “would not outweigh the harm arising from the excavation of a deep, wide cutting and other engineering works, within the WHS and its setting, of a scale and nature not previously experienced historically in this ‘landscape without parallel’”. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, who gave the WHS its international designation in 1986, has also condemned the road scheme.

The complexity of the case has obliged SSWHS to raise its funding target for the legal challenge, including the three-day hearing.

Kate Fielden, Hon Secretary the Stonehenge Alliance and SSWHS, said:

“Having a date for the court hearing gives us something to aim for in preparing for our challenge to Grant Shapps’ outrageous decision. We urge our supporters to help us to continue the fight to save our famous World Heritage Site from this appalling scheme. There can be no more iconic symbol of the global heritage of mankind than Stonehenge and we have a duty to safeguard it for future generations.”

The Stonehenge Alliance supporter-organisations are: Ancient Sacred Landscape Network; CPRE; FoE; Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust; and Transport Action Network.

Setting out to “reveal the facts behind some of the most common myths and misconceptions about the A303 Stonehenge scheme” Highways England have been making fudge.

Fudge #1 – The tunnel is going under the Stonehenge 

“This is just not true”, says Highways England, conveniently overlooking that Stonehenge is a 5.6 km wide UNESCO World Heritage Site and the proposed A303 tunnel within it is only 3km long.

Fudge #2 – “You’ll not be seeing bulldozers at Stonehenge”, says Highways England.

Only then to state: “the only equipment (above ground) in the World Heritage Site will be at the tunnel entrances and cuttings” – so we will be seeing bulldozers at Stonehenge!

Fudge #3 – Stonehenge will be damaged during construction

“Again – not true”, says Highways England, conveniently overlooking a wide deep 1km long cutting to be excavated through a Beaker cemetery and remains of an Early Bronze Age settlement within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

Fudge #4 – We’ll lose the free view of Stonehenge 

“If you’re a driver, this is true,” says Highways England. Big of them. Passengers as well as drivers of upwards of 24,000 vehicles a day will lose the experience of encountering the free view of Stonehenge from the A303 forever.

Fudge #5 – The traffic is caused by people slowing down to look at the stones (just put a fence up instead)

“A fence wouldn’t solve this and would damage those things that make the World Heritage Site special – creating a barrier, something we are trying to remove by placing the A303 in a 2-mile tunnel”, says Highways England.

Of all the fudged claims made by Highways England this is surely a contender for a prize – so a fence “would damage those things that make the World Heritage Site special – creating a barrier” but a tunnel and attached cuttings totalling 4.5km in a 5.6km wide World Heritage Site isn’t creating a barrier and damaging what makes this place special?

Having featured the Highways England video posted on social media 16 December 2020, advice for SMEs (small and medium-sized business enterprises) which momentarily included some small print in the top left corner, the Heritage Journal have been informed that Highways England posted an almost identical video on social media 17 December 2020 that no longer included this small print:

‘Filmed before COVID restrictions’.

At the beginning of December it was reported that 75% of SMEs have endured a negative impact from the pandemic in 2020, tens of thousands of jobs are at risk and the UK is predicted to emerge from the pandemic in ‘one of the worst global positions.’

In view of which what are Highways England playing at?

Highways England’s A303 Stonehenge Community posted a 20 second video on social media 16 December 2020, featuring advice from a supplier to a road scheme in another part of the country, which in addition to sound was spelled out in large print:

The main advice I would give to SMEs [small and medium-sized business enterprises] that are looking to work on projects such as these is don’t be shy. Be brave, be bold, if you genuinely believe that you’ve got the capability to support projects and deliver on these projects, go for it. 

If spotted – fading in after 2 seconds then disappearing by 6 seconds – some small print momentarily appeared in the top left corner of the video as seen in the accompanying screenshot:

‘Filmed before COVID restrictions’.

So this interview was filmed before it was revealed that the independent Planning Inspectorate had recommended refusal of the A303 Stonehenge (Amesbury to Berwick Down) tunnel scheme.

The interview was filmed before it was announced that legal advice was being sought on a potential challenge to the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision to ignore the findings of 5 senior planning inspectors.

It was filmed before active protests in opposition to the decision to proceed with the tunnel were launched in the Stonehenge landscape.

In view of the above, has Highways England provided the supplier in the video with an update then courteously asked permission before posting the footage in these very different times?

Over the last two days the Heritage Journal has responded in detail to Sir Tim Laurence’s article in the Telegraph (£) about the A303 Stonehenge tunnel scheme. As Chairman of English Heritage, Sir Tim Laurence would have ‘preferred a longer tunnel’, but the Government has decided it is ‘not affordable’ and he had this to say of the short tunnel scheme English Heritage and other heritage bodies support:

‘Will there be “considerable harm to landscape character and visual amenity” in the WHS as the Planning Inspectorate’s report into the project asserted? Here I take issue with an otherwise fair and balanced report.

It seems to me that overall there will be huge net benefits to the major part of the landscape, albeit at the expense of intrusion at either end.’

Whereas:

UNESCO has stated the very opposite and Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS’ Final Report on the joint advisory mission to Stonehenge in 2018 states:

‘…the construction of four-lane highways in cuttings at either end of the tunnel would adversely and irreversibly impact on the integrity, authenticity and Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the WHS, particularly through disrupting the spatial and visual links between monuments, and as a result of its overall visual impact.’

There we have it – UNESCO disagrees with English Heritage, the National Trust, this Government and its chief employees at Historic England and Highways England. In short, the road should not be removed from National Trust land alone if damage is to be incurred either side within the World Heritage Site.

In persisting with support for the short tunnel English Heritage has constructed a garden path at Stonehenge for the unknowing to be led up. If the charity isn’t prepared to care for the World Heritage Site as UNESCO demands and in line with the government’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention, then perhaps it is time for Stonehenge to be no longer managed by English Heritage.

In guiding a distinguished visitor around the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, English Heritage appears to have been highly selective with their information.

In his recent Telegraph (£) article Sir Tim Laurence states:

‘Will the work at the Amesbury end interfere with the drainage affecting other historic sites? Construction engineers are certain that it will not.’

Whereas:

Apart from the increases in noise and air pollution, rainwater running off the proposed flyover at the Amesbury will carry pollutants that will contaminate the land, paleochannel and spring at Blick Mead. The tunnel will furthermore act as an underground dam which will impact on the water table, with potential to threaten the survival of vulnerable evidence trapped in sediments. What construction engineers employed by the developer are certain of isn’t relevant.

Sir Tim Laurence states:

‘Sir Simon Jenkins, that great champion of Britain’s heritage, has suggested that English Heritage will benefit financially from the tunnel. He is completely wrong about this.’

Whereas:

Without the income from a captive paying public at Stonehenge the future of the charity is insecure, English Heritage is wholly reliant on this income stream that in the short term the tunnel may ensure. The need for this income stream was not denied by the CEO of English Heritage in responding to this charge in recent letters to The Times and the Guardian.

Sir Tim Laurence states:

‘People will be able to walk around the majority of the site in peace and quiet as they would have done for thousands of years before modern roads destroyed the setting.’

Whereas:

The majority of the World Heritage Site is privately owned and will remain so, there will be no public access to this land. The peace and quiet paying visitors enjoy will still include the sounds of military helicopters, artillery firing practice, and the throb of English Heritage’s tourist buses.

Sir Tim Laurence states:

‘One cannot have everything in life.’

Whereas:

True, but the public can surely expect a decision on this fundamental symbol of our heritage to be based on an independent Planning Inspectorate’s recommendation.

Launching the A303 Stonehenge tunnel scheme in December 2014, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, summarised ‘those conversations we’ve all had’:

I didn’t get stuck in traffic on the way in, the traffic is moving … It reminds me of all the times going down to Devon and Cornwall on holiday and sitting in the car often shouting at my mum saying when we are going to get there… those conversations we’ve all had. I’ve been many times before, the times when I did pester my mother to stop on the way.

Those pestered to stop are among the number paying English Heritage an entrance fee at Stonehenge each year, which is around the number attending a middle of the table football club in a season.

In the context of those ‘conversations we’ve all had’, even with ourselves alone in a vehicle, the number of times Stonehenge presents a free opportunity to engage with the site when travelling the A303 each year, is equivalent to the combined number paying to go through the turnstiles at several of the top Premiership football clubs in this country.

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