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The British tend to be very supportive of 3 things: The NHS, the National Trust and Sir David Attenborough and although they get vocal about the faults of the first two. they’d be furious if someone tried to take them away. It wouldn’t be Britain without them. But just lately something’s gone wrong at the Trust.
To their credit, for years they (and their boss) have valiantly fought “conservation creep” (the drift in the official definition of conservation from “safeguarding” to “maintaining and managing change”), as befits a charity that works “to preserve and protect historic places and spaces – for ever, for everyone“. But recently at a notorious and (we thought) uncomfortable live AGM it was announced they wouldn’t be opposing a “short” Stonehenge tunnel (thus ditching “safeguarding special places” in favour of “managing change”). All of them? Or were some of them wishing they were in a tunnel? I don’t know. All I do know is that the Trust wasn’t always like this. Remember their press releases a decade ago, e.g. “National Trust calls for full delivery of Stonehenge vision” (2003) and “Don’t sell Stonehenge short” (2004)?
Given its laudable record you’d think the Trust could be trusted to express the true reality, i.e. that tunnels harm nothing but access roads destroy everything (and the short tunnel requires dual carriageway-sized trenches inside the WHS). In 2002 English Heritage’s chief archaeologist said of a trench proposed for the then cut and cover scheme: “the thought of gouging that massive trench across such a precious landscape just brought tears to my eyes.” The Trust’s leadership should reveal to the public if their trench will make them cry but instead they (and EH) seem to be implying the trenches will bring net benefits and that the damage can somehow be worked round or minimised. But they can’t and it would involve sleight of hand to present a plan that purported to. The archaeological landscape there is just too rich, there’s no room to insert a harmless trench.
It looks as if NT and EH have simply stopped resisting massive harm to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and the only “harm” they are still trying to avoid is the harm to their own reputations. Hence this headline in November (days before the Government announced the short tunnel and months after they’d told the Government they’d support it!): “We want a longer A303 tunnel at Stonehenge says English Heritage and National Trust“. And these two “wriggles” – one by NT: “We would love a 4.5km tunnel to be announced, to be on the table, but what we did was try to take a proactive, pragmatic approach to what might be acceptable to us” (a “pragmatic approach” which they had never, ever, ever considered acceptable before!) and one by EH: “What this is about is the Government gets the traffic moving but we protect what’s special about Stonehenge and all the other monuments.” (See? EH has managed to do what no parent ever can: choose which child to save and which to let perish!)
They – and Britain – really have no moral right to do this. As Kate Fielden of the Stonehenge Alliance has pointed out: “the fact is, our Government is committed under the World Heritage Convention to protect the whole site, not just parts of it“. Compare that simple statement with what the NT’s Assistant Director of Operations said on BBC Somerset: (no longer available but here’s an accurate transcript) : “We’ve been doing work to see if we can assess different portal locations against, you know, what’s important in that landscape and we think there may be some alternative portal locations that weren’t necessarily considered before…. which would have an overall benefit for the site….. there IS going to be an impact where the tunnel comes out …. but we’ve been trying to find some locations where there’s a sort of net gain if you like for heritage and the landscape”. Got that? They’ve found places to put the trenches they hadn’t thought of before and are saying that if those are used there’ll be an overall benefit for the site!“
Well, ALL portal locations would cause massive damage, there are no magic ones that don’t and anyway they surely don’t have the moral right or mandate to pursue a “net gain” at the expense of destroying part of the site do they? If they think otherwise let them first explain to the world, with absolute precision, how this UNESCO statement on world heritage is wrong: “The deterioration or disappearance of any item of the cultural or natural heritage constitutes a harmful impoverishment of the heritage of all the nations of the world.”
The current bottom line is that the NT is proposing to support bequeathing to future generations a Stonehenge fashioned through the juxtaposition of short-term electoral manoevering and the fact its two guardians have taken their eyes off the ball. “This ancient place will finally have the future it deserves” wrote the Trust’s archaeologist recently. Actually, isn’t it the reality that if those trenches are dug Stonehenge will have the future it doesn’t deserve, forever, for everyone. Is it the role of today’s National Trust to countenance such a thing? Can we please have back the Trust that most Trust supporters (and it’s employees perchance?) would wish for?
Or you might like to contact the Trust by phone, post, email or online and tell them their current stance isn’t in line with your instinct or what their instinct used to be and they should do something both radical and right: think again. The Trust is not a natural Government lapdog so this is one of those rare occasions when public opinion just might change what’s happening.
(National Trust employees are not excluded from this invitation!)
RESCUE – the British Archaeological Trust have been campaigning for many years against cuts to archaeological and museum services around the country, lobbying local councils, politicians and others with influence in governmental circles.
For a similar number of years, they have also provided advice so that members of the public such as you and I can assist in their campaigning, by lobbying our local bigwigs on archaeological issues of local and national importance.
As part of this campaigning, their useful guide, “Fighting Back: Some suggestions as to how to campaign to save museums, archaeological services and the historic environment” has been updated afresh for 2015 and version 5.2 of this very useful document is now available for all to download.
You don’t have to be a member of RESCUE to follow the advice therein, but the more people that sign up for membership, the more weight their arguments carry within the corridors of power, so please consider signing up. Individual membership costs a shade over £1 a month, less than a cup of coffee!
By Dr Sandy Gerrard.
On the 2nd January 2012 we were invited by friends to have a look at an area that was about to be destroyed by wind farm construction works. The wind farm was to occupy Mynydd y Betws and the part we chose to look at was around Bancbryn.
A few years earlier despite protestations from Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) permission had been granted by the Welsh Assembly Government for a wind farm to be erected subject to a whole raft of conditions. Amongst these were a couple of archaeological ones which sought to ensure that the archaeology was properly recorded prior to destruction. In 2011 a programme of work was carried out by Cotswold Archaeology who reported that very little had been found. With the green light in place construction work started towards the end of 2011 and it was then that we were approached by friends who were concerned that various planning conditions were being flouted.
The visit on 2nd January rapidly revealed that there were archaeological remains within the area that was scheduled for destruction. Traces of archaeological trenches were visible in places but these appeared to have missed the surviving remains. The local archaeological trust (DAT) were informed of our discoveries and eventually agreed to meet on the mountain on 16th January. The DAT officer agreed that the remains were of potential significance and asked the developers to stop work in their vicinity until they had been investigated.
In the meantime a request to schedule one of the sites was submitted to Cadw together with a question. Why had no attempt been made to look for and record the archaeology within the development footprint?
From this point onwards the archaeological organisations involved set about protecting their positions and in doing so exposed series flaws in the way that archaeology is conducted in Wales. Freedom of Information requests have revealed the highly questionable ways in which the various organisations sought to minimise the political fallout and the considerable lengths that they were willing to go to try and protect their vested interests.
Amongst the techniques used were: ignoring evidence; failing to substantiate claims; not publishing the excavation report, refusing to engage with many of the issues; conducting a biased scheduling assessment and attempting to withhold information. Perhaps most telling however was the role played by DAT who were simultaneously providing planning advice to the local authority whilst working on behalf of the developer. Where else within the planning system is a private company (DAT) able to act simultaneously on behalf of both the developer and the planning authority?
Running through the whole sorry saga however is a seam of complete incompetence. Fundamental mistakes were made at every turn – contradictions, inconsistencies, inaccuracies and contempt for public concerns are all apparent. During the coming months the evidence to support these and other claims will be presented.
Of course if any of the organisations involved would like to comment we would be happy to publish their responses in full (The Heritage Journal).
We notice English Heritage has just granted Grade 2 Listing to a former cattery in London and this urinal in Bristol. Fine.
But we can’t help notice a conservation contrast 40 miles east of Bristol where they and the National Trust are promoting the idea of a too-short tunnel which involves digging massive access trenches inside an area termed “the most archaeologically significant land surface in Europe”.
Of course, if votes could be gained by not protecting notable urinals or catteries it’s possible we’d now be looking at a blitz on those instead – but while that would be sad it wouldn’t be an international scandal. Damaging the Stonehenge landscape would be though and unfortunately the gods of sephology have decreed that there are many marginal seats that might be swayed by a Stonehenge tunnel even if it involved trenches inside the Landscape. Especially if experts went on record implying it would improve the WHS overall!
We happen to have been given what might have been the original pre-election strategy document that lays out the plan. It’s very simple, no fancy planning terms, so even we amateurs can understand it. Not sure who wrote it but they seem to have been in politics, and hunting enthusiasts….
Please add your voice to those who think it shouldn’t happen by signing the Petition for those living in Britain or the one for those living abroad. You can also email UNESCO which is the global guardian of World Heritage Sites.
From a correspondent
English Heritage and the National Trust have been advocating a short tunnel for the A303 at Stonehenge, but what little benefit this affords does not outweigh the terrible adverse impact of tunnel entrances and infrastructure inside the World Heritage Site (WHS). This was predictably why the impact of any short tunnel would prove unacceptable to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). Ultimately, following ICOMOS’s declaration of concern, proposals for a short tunnel will almost certainly be viewed adversely by the body that grants WHS status: the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Were then a short tunnel to go ahead, there is a possibility that both Stonehenge and Avebury could lose WHS status. In addition to the economic, aesthetic, cultural and social losses this would be bound to induce, the loss of WHS status would result in a much bigger Stonehenge “national disgrace” than the former facilities ever were. In terms of a globally tarnished image it would not be just the future reputations of English Heritage and the National Trust that would be at stake, but that of the whole Nation! What generation wants that on its conscience?
Thank you again, for helping save Offa’s Dyke from the developers.
In Willits (California) a bypass is being cut through the heart of ancestral tribal lands. In Wilts (UK) another one (comprising a “short” tunnel with massive access cuttings) is being planned to cut through the heart of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. That’s not where the similarities end.
In Willits “there were delays in funding due to the downturn in the economy.” – snap in Wilts!
In Willits: “No official consultation had ever occurred” - snap in Wilts! (lots of private meetings though!)
In Willits: “nearly 30 cultural sites not documented in the first EIS have been found” Will it be snap with a nought added in Wilts?
In Willits: “officials never created a map” – snap in Wilts – or to be precise, detailed ones haven’t been shown to the public (yet they must exist – how else could English Heritage and the National Trust have decided to support the short tunnel?)
In Willits: “they started finding things they said wouldn’t be there.” Will it be snap to that too in Wilts? (A clue: “hundreds” of previously unsuspected features have recently been found at Stonehenge. “Two thousand” have recently been found on Exmoor! Thus what might be selected as the “least damaging” route might turn out to be otherwise. Would the line of the route be diverted if that happened – like it wasn’t at Tara?)
In Willits: Tribal officials say the authorities are “not properly informing and consulting with them about new sites that are disrupted or found during construction“. It remains to be seen if the hundreds of features likely to be found, disrupted or destroyed at Stonehenge are likely to be promptly reported to the British tribe (or the World one) or whether they’ll only learn what has been lost long after it has happened.
A synopsis of the Outstanding Universal Value of Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site can be found here. For an account of the 20-year Stonehenge roads saga and the efforts of the admirable Stonehenge Alliance and others to resist damage to the Outstanding Universal Value see here.
On 3rd December 2014 the Chancellor is likely to announce funds for a short bored tunnel (2.5km to 2.9km) as a result of confidential talks between the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency, English Heritage, the National Trust, local authorities and others. If you believe a short bored tunnel would be too short to protect the World Heritage Site please consider signing the Petition here.
We recently highlighted how the Government seems less determined lately to impose large housing developments onto unwilling communities and sensitive historic landscapes. But it’s not just houses, it’s also wind farms. Eric Pickles is now calling most of them in for review. Take Northumberland:
“the wind of change seems to have blown through the whole vexed issue on onshore wind. Many believe that the DCLG and its boss Eric Pickles is acting out of a desire to appease rank and file Conservative voters, who rightly or wrongly are associated with an anti-wind stance.” The wind farm industry is angry about it: “The Government is clearly trying to shut down onshore wind…. It’s a long an arduous job to get a wind farm through the planning system then along comes a politician from Westminster who knows nothing and kills it”.
The timing of all this certainly looks suspicious. Not that the “election factor”, if such it is, has been all good for heritage conservation: a short tunnel at Stonehenge, with no public consultation and in the teeth of likely bitter opposition from most archaeological and heritage organisations, looks very like chasing votes in the South West by sacrificing the welfare of parts of the Stonehenge landscape.
by Sandy Gerrard
A recent news feature in the Dundee Courier highlights a basic problem with the way that the destruction of heritage is viewed. The story concerns the discovery and excavation of human remains in Stirling. The cemetery is being excavated in advance of a housing and retail development with building work due to commence later in the year. The discovery is variously described as exciting and fascinating and clearly much new and potentially important information will be gleaned.
This much is not in dispute – it is excellent that the archaeology is being looked at and the remains treated with respect. At the end of the process the archaeology will inevitably have been destroyed and all that will remain is the record compiled by the archaeologists and the human remains hopefully reburied with the absolute respect mentioned in the newspaper. This is the inevitable result of progress and indeed many of our wonderful archaeological palimpsests are a direct result of our understandable need to change our surroundings. So would it not be more honest to admit that sometimes the past must be sacrificed in the interest of the present and future. In Stirling the spin put on the destruction of a small part of the city’s heritage takes some beating. According to one of their councillors:
“The development of this key city centre site is clearly important, but it is also important that we preserve and protect the city’s rich past in the way that is happening now in the excavation phase of the project.”
It is difficult to understand how the complete destruction of heritage can ever be remotely described as preservation and protection. Taking this approach to its logical conclusion Stirling’s rich past would be best served by destroying it all but making sure to place the artefacts in a museum and the records in an archive. The idea that destruction can ever be seen as a way of preserving and protecting our heritage is one that needs to be challenged at every opportunity. Our understanding can certainly be enhanced by destruction, but every time a site is destroyed tangible remains are lost and the chance to learn more using enhanced investigative techniques in future has also vanished. We need to face this reality and stop hiding behind the idea that somehow because we have made a record of what was there that is somehow miraculously preserved and protected – it is NOT, its gone and its gone for ever.