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It’s now almost eight years since the passing of Lord Kennet (Wayland Young). He was passionately concerned for the welfare of both Avebury and Stonehenge, being chairman of the Avebury Society and the first chairman of the Stonehenge Alliance. For many years he was at the forefront of defending our national icon from a succession of schemes that would have disfigured it forever. The day after he died a new Stonehenge visitors centre was announced, well away from the stones. It seemed that the threat of massive new highways being built inside the World Heritage landscape had disappeared, due in no small part to his ceaseless opposition.
Sadly a new version of that threat has now arrived. It is supported this time not just by the original supporters but by The National Trust as well. Nevertheless, certain words from Lord Kennet remain just as applicable and can’t be spun away by a charity supported by 4.2 million members and dedicated to looking after our most special places forever, for everyone, so they might yet make a crucial difference:
Today, April 18, is World Heritage Day.
World Heritage Day is all about raising awareness of the importance of protecting and preserving various sites around the world that have achieved world heritage status. It’s a chance to inform everyone about the efforts involved to protect and conserve, and just how vulnerable these sites are. That includes the Stonehenge landscape.
In Britain a spokesperson for English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust commented: “Tra-la-la, fingers in our ears, not listening”.
English Heritage has again increased its Stonehenge entry price. It’s now £16.50 if you book and £19.50 if you just turn up. Once again that’s far ahead of inflation. So where’s the giveaway? Well, you get in free four times a year if you’re one of a couple of dozen Druids or a genuine pagan or, more to the point, if you’re one of tens of thousands of pagans-of-convenience-for-the-day or anyone else for that matter. What’s more, unlike most paying customers, they’ll let you go inside the stone circle itself.
So why a million pounds? Well, at some summer solstices thirty five thousand people turn up (and another 10,000 at Winter solstice and the equinoxes), that’s 45,000 visitors not paying £19.50 each, which is £877,500 of lost revenue.
Then there’s the cost of staging the events. EH say that in 2015 the summer event cost the following:
Security & Stewarding £54k (inc all security and stewarding, car park management and St John Ambulance)
Event Management £13k (inc risk management, health and safety and operation set up, dismantling and clear up)
Temporary Equipment £56k (inc lighting and technical production, tracking, fencing, toilets and event accommodation)
Land Lease Charges £10k (inc hire of land for car parking)
Signage & Printing £2k (inc signage production and installation and conditions of entry leaflets)
Waste Management £11k (inc litter picking, recycling and removal of all waste off site, cleaning of toilets)
General Site Maintenance £3k (inc general maintenance and operational support required before and after Solstice)
Consumables £1k (inc toilet rolls, waste bags and PPE)
Add to that….Other taxpayer-funded agencies including the police, perhaps £20K
and costs at the other three events, say £50k
Making total costs £220,000. So £877,500 of lost revenue plus £220,000 costs makes a total of £1,097,500 every year.
Since the paying customers are subsidising the free shindigs to the tune of £1 each, they’ve maybe got a case for complaining about this latest price hike! What’s more, they might ask: why stage the summer event expensively at night, when we’re paying for it? As EH tells them very clearly in its literature and presentations: the winter solstice sunset is the one that matters. So it’s all a bit of a muddle, as befits a heritage organisation that is lobbying for massive new damage to Stonehenge’s landscape.
In a long piece, “What did the world heritage site mean to the people who built Stonehenge? Nothing” Mike Pitts has just argued that it’s wrong to oppose new damage within it. However, a moment’s reflection will reveal that for anyone to establish that as a fact requires an attempt to establish a single sine qua non – that the World Heritage Site’s borders are of no significance so don’t need to be regarded as sacrosanct. As to that, Mr Pitts doesn’t disappoint:
“But the world heritage site border is a line on a modern map that has nothing to do with antiquity. It wasn’t there in the neolithic. It’s a reflection of what archaeologists knew about Stonehenge in the early 1980s – recent archaeological research, the historical accidents of survival, and modern history…..”
“So to obsess about preserving the world heritage site on the one hand, and not to care a jot about the land outside on the other, is perverse and unthinking.”
No Mr Pitts, the WHS isn’t a mere line on a modern map, it’s a line in the sand. It was drawn by competent modern people to preseve what lay within it forever against all attempts to encroach upon it or downplay it. They intended for it to be defended, not defeated, and although we now know it’s too small that doesn’t make it any less sacrosanct. To hold that view (as so many honorable experts and laypersons do) is neither perverse nor unthinking. It is not they who have failed to understand.
In a move which will bring yet more criticism on its head, the National Trust has attempted to get rid of the main objection to its tunnel ambition by hiring a giant lorry and moving the stones out of the way. A spokesperson said they are to be put in a more convenient spot on Trust land a few hundred yards away. It will be the star attraction in a new National Trust theme park, Foreverland.
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.
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.”