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Given this presentation is here today gone tomorrow, lacks substance, and this unfit for purpose tunnel solution is being pushed as a single remedy for the WHS – those old wagons bearing snake oil posters come to mind: a short tunnel …“is good for everything a snake oil ought to be good for” …“good for man and beast”… “apply locally and liberally” …“cures all”!
We would urge everyone near and far to participate in the public consultation about the changes to the A303 at Stonehenge.
The tunnel comes with a flyover at Countess Roundabout that crosses into the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS), a raised section would tower 8 metres alongside the precious site known as Blick Mead, the road continuing to the barrow cemetery east of King Barrow Ridge and into a tunnel portal below the Stonehenge Avenue. Traffic having been speeded up, the noise and pollution on this stretch will affect everyone: from those walking the Avenue to Amesbury Abbey care home residents, and of course wildlife road kills increase with faster traffic.
Rare bats have been found in this area recently, and the effect on the wildlife inhabiting Vespasian’s Camp will be exacerbated. We should also be concerned at the effect on the River Avon and its tributary the Till, which are important for aquatic wildlife as Special Areas of Conservation.
At the other end of the tunnel, the location of the west portal threatens views of the winter solstice alignment from the stones and emerges alongside the RSPB’s special Normanton Down reserve, so the noise and pollution will ultimately ruin it and drive out the stone curlews. The new four lane western road affects Normanton Down barrow cemetery, including the famous Bush Barrow, and is imposed on the highly important group of Neolithic long barrows running from Normanton Gorse to Longbarrow Crossroads and back towards Stonehenge itself.
Whilst removing the whole of the A303 from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS) would have some advantages, this short tunnel – of around half the width of the WHS but with both portals inside – would be devastating.
Only by making your opinions heard can this tunnel be changed!
If any one organisation is to blame for the short tunnel at Stonehenge, it’s The National Trust (their support was pivotal according to the Cameron Government). The Trust has never satisfactorily explained why it has U-turned – see their ludicrous explanation at their 2014 AGM here – and the poverty of its reasoning has been amply demonstrated ever since by its repeated insistence that building the tunnel is a good thing because it will mean people will be able to hear skylarks from the stones. Were they heard from the stones originally? Probably not.
Here’s their archaeologist recently saying it yet again and here’s their Director, Dame Helen Gosh who has just told America: “I know there will be some sadness that people will no longer be able to see the stones from the road, but visitors will once again be able to hear the sounds of skylarks singing rather than the constant noise of traffic.”
We love skylarks but they are one of the most widely distributed of all British birds, found from coastal dunes to the tops of the Cairngorms. On the other hand, there’s only one Stonehenge landscape – and you can clearly hear skylarks within 99.9% of it already. Mind you, you won’t be able to do so around the newly constructed roads. Nor round the tunnel portals – and the west portal has in fact been positioned on the threshold of the RSPB’s Normanton Down reserve containing stone curlews and other rare birds! (How does the RSPB feel about that? Does the National Trust care, so long as they can “hear skylarks at the stones”?)
Launched without notification, with the clock already running and only two days until the first exhibition event… Highways England’s announcement of the public consultation for the A303 at Stonehenge brought to mind Monty Python’s ‘Spanish Inquisition’:
Less than seven weeks have been given for busy individuals and archaeology, heritage and wildlife groups to examine the proposals and formulate their stances. The number of the one-day-only exhibition venues are also few, and apart from one event at the elite HQ of the Society of Antiquaries in London, the area in which the exhibitions are being held is ludicrously parochial for a World Heritage site (WHS). Blink and the exhibition briefly pops up elsewhere then gone again.
Mike Pitts has just written [our emphasis in red]:
“There is going to be a consultation this spring to consider options for the A303 road tunnel past (not under) Stonehenge. Will the press report this in a balanced, understanding way, or will it focus Brexit-style on the loud voices obsessed with stopping a tunnel regardless of any proper consideration of the current situation and potential outcomes? And… whoops, this one has already happened. As I write, the Guardian has exactly theses words in a headline and subhead, quoting Dan Snow and Tom Holland. These are good men both, a forceful TV presenter of military history (Snow) and a masterful writer on classical history and presenter of Radio 4’s Making History (Holland). But, pace the Guardian, neither is an expert on Stonehenge archaeology or the Stonehenge tunnel. Nobody beyond involved engineers can be a tunnel expert – we still have a great deal of detail to learn. I’m not sure what Michael Gove had in mind in his infamous dismissal of “experts”, but tabloid-style use of the word like this does nothing for public understanding or respect for specialists. You do not become an expert by making the most noise (as I’m sure Snow and Holland would agree).”
He’s right, the press shouldn’t say Messrs Snow and Holland are tunnel experts as they aren’t and never claimed they were but he has missed the fundamental point: they don’t need to be. The problem isn’t the tunnel but the huge new approach roads which will have to be constructed. You don’t have to be a tunnel expert or a Stonehenge expert to know that would cause enormous damage to the World Heritage landscape, something which is being loudly ignored in the press and on websites by the powerful pro-tunnel lobby.
(Incidentally, the phrase “loud voices obsessed with stopping a tunnel” follows his previous statement that the Stonehenge Alliance acts like“the archaeological wing of Donald Trump’s social media campaign”. Fortunately they seem to have opted not to retaliate in kind or to be diverted from voicing their democratic opinion in a dignified manner. Good for them!).
A guest post from Jim Rayner, a good friend of the Heritage Journal:
Anyone attending recent solstice celebrations at Stonehenge will have noticed that the old A344 northern stock boundary fence remains in situ and now acts as a ‘new’ boundary marker for monument field. Promises to reconnect the Avenue with the stones and create a ‘permissive route’ along the line of the old road have failed to materialize. Tim Daw has been following the story on his sarsen.org website in some detail.
Apparently, the official position is that the down-land grass needs more time to establish and works to create a new shuttle bus turning circle are on-going. Hopefully, by the end of 2017 these changes will be complete, but it is unlikely that this will have involved the removal of the fence. In practical terms this means the Avenue will still be separated from Stonehenge and people cannot spread-out down from the stones during Managed Open Access (MOA).
An easy solution would be for English Heritage (EH) and the National Trust (NT) to install a gate. This gate would only be opened for short periods during MOA and would be staffed by security and subject to all the usual EH terms of conditions of entry. Better still there would be two gates side-by-side, one for entry and another for exiting. Not being able to walk up to the Heel Stone from the Avenue (in one single movement) detracts from the experience (see video below). It could well be argued that the current fence restricts ceremonial access, is inauthentic and even contributes to overcrowding in the centre of the circle. MOA is an on-going process and everything needs to make things better for all concerned. In this regard, a simple set of gates could really help.
President Obama has just created the Bears Ears National Monument, Utah, granting federal protection under the Antiquities Act to the geological formations and 2,000 square miles of desert surrounding them.
But sadly, Congress is bent on repealing every shred of Obama’s legacy and to open up public lands to development and drilling. Hence there’s no way the area will remain sacrosanct. Local Republicans are willing to protect the area but only if damage can be done where they consider it’s necessary. To this end they intend to repeal not just the designation but the Antiquities Act itself. How could they be so crass? (Well, for example, this very morning House Republicans have gutted an independent ethics watchdog, putting it under their own control, in a secret ballot hours before the new Congress convened for the first time, so anything is possible.)
The rejection of “sacrosanct” in favour of “sometimes sacrosanct” is now familiar in Britain – see Historic England’s Advice Note apparently providing themselves with justification to support massive damage to the Stonehenge landscape: “a small minority of landscapes will be so sensitive that the degree of alteration or addition without loss of significance may be very limited, particularly where there is a consistently high level of archaeological interest or architectural consistency” BUT: “Works other than those of a minor nature are likely to be acceptable only where they would be in the best long-term interests of the conservation of the remains or there are other important planning justifications.”
The question arises, if the Stonehenge Landscape isn’t sacrosanct, where is? And how come the change has been brought about by a quango acting on unpublished Government orders, and not subject to an ethics watchdog, independent or otherwise? What can one say? Well, simply that logic dictates that those who work for organisations which support the short tunnel and think of their organisations as superior to Trump’s Republicans are deluding themselves.
Solstice events are much improved since English Heritage banned alcohol and imposed a parking charge, thereby reducing misbehaviour and overcrowding. But there’s still room for improvement. For one thing, thousands who are purely revellers use the “don’t pay to pray” mantra to oppose paying an economic price for the event. Consequently many tens of thousands extra pounds are spent on the event that could be better used elsewhere to protect heritage.
For another thing, English Heritage are still utterly pathetic at stopping hundreds of people standing on the stones, thereby broadcasting a message of disrespect. (Three stewards/security guards in high viz jackets and helmets – and heavy boots no doubt – were shown this morning on BBC 1, standing side by side on a stone! EH stewardship, eh? Next they’ll be supporting the wrecking of the landscape with a short tunnel!)
In addition, the gathering takes place at the wrong time and the wrong place. The monument was designed to view the winter solstice sunset from outside the stones not the winter solstice sunrise from inside them. Doing it wrong is no big deal but doing it wrong at great expense when heritage needs aren’t met elsewhere is hard to justify.
You can do it right if you wish (here’s a tour you can book) or if you prefer you could celebrate the event perfectly validly in your local town. In Birmingham for instance there are dozens of roads clearly aligned on the winter solstice sunset! We recommend City Road, Edgbaston. It runs dead straight for a mile pointing to the winter solstice setting sun. Magnificent! All proper pagans ought to be gathering there!
So you want to wreck your country’s premier World Heritage landscape with massive new dual carriageways in cuttings? How do you get the locals to enthuse?
Well, you do something you could have done for the past many years but mysteriously you didn’t do until now. You concoct and publish an embarrassingly inappropriate peak-time traffic relief route directing all the A303 traffic straight through a small local community and you announce it in an apparently innocent, chirpy fashion: “Stuck in traffic on the A303 Stonehenge? Our planned upgrades will ease congestion, making journeys faster and more reliable”….
Admittedly it’s 50% further and saves only 8 minutes but that’s not the point. It’s so disruptive it will ensure local support for the short tunnel is solid, and that IS the point, who could seriously deny it?
“Nah, it’s not that at all” – a paid Spokesman.