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The army is building some new houses at Bulford, a couple of kilometers from Stonehenge and they’ve discovered a couple of 5,000 year old neolithic henges. The houses will still be built but a green space containing the henges will be left untouched.
By contrast, not far away and very soon, it is intended that bulldozers will dig out the entrance trenches to the “short tunnel” inside the World Heritage Site. There will be a host of archaeological sites in that area and you’ll have heard that the line chosen will minimise the impact on them. It’s important to understand though, that if two more henges (or ten, or anything else, no matter how precious) are found to be “inconveniently” placed, the line of the road won’t look like this….
No, it will look far more like this, it’s a certainty. Any diversion will be marginal or impossible so “minimising the impact” means about as much as a politician’s promise.
That in a nutshell is what the Stonehenge Alliance and others are upset about. So please sign their petition if you haven’t done already. The road lobby, you see, wearing the smiling professional face of EH, HE and NT, is likely to be far more ruthless than the army.
English Heritage has reacted to our recently expressed concerns about it wanting to increase the maximum number of visitors it can transport at peak times. It has said it’s about efficiency not increasing attendance figures and its planning application statement said so – “The application is not intended to facilitate growth in visitor numbers.”
However, what it is intended to facilitate and what it will facilitate are not the same thing. We still feel that if you take 900 people an hour to the stones instead of 600 then that will mean 50% more people processing round the stones in the following hour – whether that’s what you intended or not.
Incidentally, it’s not just us who are concerned about this matter. See “UNESCO fears English Heritage will milk Stonehenge under pressure for cash” and UNESCO’s specific warning: “Such pressure may result in lowering expenditure, such as specialized or expert personnel, maintenance, standards of archaeological curation, etc., and also in increasing revenues: by channelling in more visitors for shorter times….”
Some people opposed the imposition of parking charges at Summer solstice and say the whole cost of staging the event should be borne by English Heritage. They call EH “greedy” for thinking otherwise and accuse them of treating Stonehenge like a “cash cow”. Up to now we’ve been broadly on EH’s side on this – they are short of money (which has implications for the welfare of hundreds of heritage sites, not just Stonehenge) and the cost of financing the annual solstice party is a great burden – so why shouldn’t the attendees contribute? (A few dozen Druids maybe not, but thousands of party-goers, yes.)
However, the question arises: is there a limit to the amount of money that EH should extract from Stonehenge without becoming vulnerable to the accusation they are using the monument disrespectfully as a cash cow? It is prompted by this, their current planning application for improved parking: “If approved, it is hoped that these changes, plus an improved drop off/pick layout at the Stones, will create a more flexible service, providing up to 900 visitor journeys in each direction every hour at peak times – compared to the current maximum of 600”.
That implies that at peak times there will be 900 people processing round the stones every hour, an increase of 50%. Will that be just too many? Will the Stonehenge visitor experience be eroded to an unacceptable extent? If 900 is considered seemly, what if parking could be extended further, would 1,900 be OK? As guardians, shouldn’t EH announce what they think is a reasonable limit lest the jibes about Stonehenge being like Disneyland come true by incremental steps?
This morning, 9th May, this flock of 150 sheep will walk from the megalithic site at Carnac to the megalithic site at Locmariaquer. The animals feed on the vegetation on the megalithic sites of the area and thus contribute to their maintenance.
Such a relaxed, low impact approach could hardly be further from the UK’s aggressive guardian-centric guardianship of its own flagship sites (the National Trust has imposed its own commercial stranglehold on Avebury and the guardians of Stonehenge are telling the world massive new approach roads can somehow be seen as “protection”!)
See also the article 7 years ago by our member Graham Orriss, Carmac, curation and display with a refreshingly light touch.
The Culture Secretary recently ordered the re-run of the selection process for a new trustee at the National Portrait Gallery, after the candidates he favoured failed to make the shortlist. So we wondered: who wouldn’t make the short list for jobs in connection with Avebury and Stonehenge? We came up with the following:
- Anyone interviewed by Historic England that opposes the short tunnel ruining the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
- Anyone interviewed by the National Trust that suggests they avoid expanding their obtrusive commercial operations inside the largest stone circle in the world.
- Anyone interviewed by English Heritage that has an opinion on how the site should be run.
Few of us need apply then. It seems you have to bite your tongue to get (or keep) a British heritage job!
Some say so (see Google!) and in April 2009 Stephen Bayley of The Guardian dubbed them “a muddled magic kingdom”. He cited, inter alia, the elaborate “recreation” of a garden that was built for a 19-day visit of Elizabeth I in 1575 which went ahead “on no sound scholarly basis” and was “more Walt Disney than David Starkey” which Simon Thurley nevertheless described as “a really successful experiment”. That sort of attitude, spending shedloads of other people’s money without listening because it knows it is right has become all too familiar, right up to the recent example at Tintagel.
The latest, and most eye-wateringly expensive debacle is the purchase and now abandonment of the Stonehenge land trains in favour of buses. The claim that they were privately financed seems rather economical with the actualité but it’s a fair bet we’ll never hear exactly how much money was lost. What IS absolutely true is that not a penny of it would have been if they hadn’t been so insistent that they were right and all those who said otherwise weren’t worth listening to. Less arrogance, more listening to the public seems to be the lesson to be learned (and we don’t mean “fake” consultation exercises!) As proof that listening can actually save money, here’s what we wrote in April 2010 which, by their actions, they now fully agree with:
“So…. why not just use buses? These days there are as many environment-friendly innovations applying to them as to land trains – electric, hybrid, low-impact, you name it. And in addition, they are arguably just as or more flexible, inexpensive, safe, weatherproof, robust, long-lasting, reliable and easy to load – and they have a pretty small turning circle (hence require only a small footprint near the stones). Half a dozen of those and the job could be done – with no expensive, exclusive maintenance agreements with manufacturers, no equally expensive “custom built” elements – and let’s face it, buses are rather well-tested technology so they’d definitely give a high degree of reliability.”
[More background from Tim Daw here]
Andy Heaton who has led a tireless fight against damage to Offa’s Dyke , today offers his thoughts on the “short tunnel” at Stonehenge. In particular, he points out what the short tunnel lobby doesn’t: even a ‘long’ tunnel of 3 miles under Stonehenge would still be 15 miles shorter than the 18 mile one now being planned to run under the Peak District!
A couple of weeks ago in the Guardian, there was an article outlining how the government intends to set in motion plans for a high-speed railway line from Manchester to Leeds and an 18 mile underground road tunnel beneath the Peak District. The predicted cost of all this is £6bn . . . . . . . but government projects are never within budget, so it’ll cost at least double that amount. Oh yes, by comparison with the example above, perhaps the ‘long’ tunnel that has been suggested for Stonehenge, should be renamed as the ‘modest’ tunnel ? A ‘long’ tunnel of 3 miles under Stonehenge, would still be 15 miles shorter than the ‘long’ tunnel under the Peak District. Perhaps they measure things differently in Wiltshire? Perhaps Stonehenge should be relocated to the Peak District and placed atop the new 18 mile tunnel?
The problem with a tunnel is that a couple of miles of brand new, four-lane highway would have to be bulldozed through the World Heritage Site. Outside the tunnel, the World Heritage Site would be split in two, by a noisy and unsightly dual carriageway (four-lane highway). It would need to be securely fenced and with long cuttings leading down to tunnel entrances. Oh yes, it would need to have a high level of lighting – day and night – these requirements are mandatory and as such, there is no scope to minimise any impacts. The stone circle might not be subjected to physical harm, but its landscape setting would be badly damaged and other important archaeological remains would be destroyed.
A situation exists, in which there is a one-off opportunity to secure the long-term future of Stonehenge – a heritage asset of unsurpassable importance. There is still time, to ‘get it right’; however, my concerns lie with the fact that the government and HE/NT seem prepared to accept compromises. I’m used to the government acting this way, but I’m massively disappointed with EH – the (so-called) guardians of our heritage.
Mike Pitts has probably rendered a service to Stonehenge by demonstrating that gatherings there going back to 1901 were not “free access” protests. Anything in support of modern calls for unregulated and unlimited access is best examined and demolished. In any case such calls are looking progressively unrealistic and English Heritage has now confirmed they won’t back down on charging for parking (which presently costs them £60K to lay on!) and banning alcohol at solstice gatherings. Indeed they aren’t in a position to do so as they’ve been directed to expand their income from £97.8m to more than £122m by 2023 and they have a statutory duty to eliminate damage and disrespect. Some in the Free Access lobby disagree:
On the other hand, here are two compelling witness statements about Summer Solstice. First, from Dennis Price of Eternal Idol who has been studying, writing about, appreciating and speculating upon Stonehenge for many years. Here’s his account of taking his children to Summer Solstice:
“These should have been idyllic celebrations and for the most part they were, but they were always marred at some point by the appalling behaviour of others. I am as enthusiastic a proponent of the delights and benefits of alcohol as anyone alive, but these ideals rapidly faded whenever I encountered the snarling, incapable, vomiting, belligerent, foul-mouthed drunkards, men and women who have made their deeply unpleasant presence known at every Summer Solstice I’ve attended.
Then there’s the matter of the clean-up of the monument on the morning after, when the English Heritage employees have regularly had to deal with the results of the ruins being defaced and actively vandalized by stoned, drunken morons who have lit fires on the stones, smeared them with oil and the like. Worse still, the custodians have had to remove vomit, excrement and every conceivable variety of human effluent from within the circle, a task that no one should have to perform at Stonehenge.”
Second, there’s the view of Frank Somers of Amesbury Stonehenge Druids which puts the “Our Temple” claim, the bedrock of all resistance to regulation, into neat perspective:
“Most people gathering at Stonehenge for summer solstice are not pagan at all. The vast majority of those who peddle and consume recreational drugs and who get completely drunk there have come for a free ‘party’ thrown by English Heritage, are not pagan. Druids have struggled to maintain any meaningful spiritual presence, outnumbered as we are, and unsupported by the authorities. We would love it if all of those who came, could come with peaceful hearts and open minds. The majority do. Pagans, the ones who really love Mother Nature and revere the ancestors who built Stonehenge, despair greatly at the litter and the presence of hard core drugs. It’s no longer a case of a few hippies smoking cannabis. Today, ketamine, assorted pills, ecstasy, Z’s, etc. are all being used. With so many youngsters there it really is dangerous.”
The Grave of the Princesses, a 4,000-year-old protected dolmen in County Wicklow has been badly damaged during land clearance works.
The local tourist association commented: “Our monuments are not safe… This exposes a disregard and even possible contempt for this part of our ancient heritage and the state body that protects it.” Worse still, they pointed out that “At present, landowners can claim accidental damage or they have insufficient assets or have a low income to avoid reinstatement costs.”
Thank goodness people don’t get away with such things in Britain. Unless of course it’s at Priddy where the culprit got a slap on the wrist or Offa’s Dyke where they got nothing or it happens on a World Heritage landscape and you are a statutory guardian and you’ve just made a rule saying that if the Government wants it badly enough then it’s “an important planning justification” so it’s fine!
Everyone’s been on tenterhooks. How will they possibly justify the damage rather than just enthusing about the upside? Well, they seem to have made a start. Historic England have just published Advice Note 2 – Making Changes to Heritage Assets and at first glance it seems to absolutely preclude a short tunnel (“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 then comes the escape clause: “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.” It says, doesn’t it, that if the Government wants it badly enough then that’s “an important planning justification” so it’s agents (and the hapless National Trust) will support it.
We should have all known. Doing something tantamount to driving a motorway through the Valley of the Kings could only be carried off by dint of a preposterous new rule – an 11th conservation commandment which decrees that you needn’t be bound by the other ten – and that’s exactly what Historic England appears to have done. One hopes UNESCO and ICOMOS have noticed that the carving of the Stonehenge landscape, if it happens, will be a carve up.