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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…..

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.”

QED #1

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.”

QED #2

Dear National Trust, it’s now up to you. The Government said your support for the short tunnel had been pivotal so changing your minds would be too. You have good cause to do so: thousands of members of the public plus a group of 21 top independent experts plus many other archaeologists plus ICOMOS UK have all now said the short tunnel is entirely unacceptable – and with respect, you don’t have the expertise to argue with them.

If you tell Historic England et al (publicly or privately) you’re no longer prepared to put lipstick on a pig that WILL turn the tide. You could simply repeat what you said 11 years ago:The Government has failed one of the world’s most famous landscapes. The options outlined in the Review and the consultative process by which the Government arrived at this decision, focus on transport solutions for Stonehenge which denigrate its status as a World Heritage Site.”

We suggest you owe it to your long and honourable tradition of fighting for special places forever for everyone to stand up for the Stonehenge landscape once again. It will boost your public esteem. And your t shirt sales.

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Now it’s not just the 21 independent experts, it’s ICOMOS-UK! (See its response to the  public consultation):

On the basis of evidence set out below, ICOMOS-UK firmly objects to the current option for a 2.9km tunnel for the substantial negative and irreversible impact if would have on the attributes of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage site (WHS) of Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated sites.”

Best of all, it goes to the very crux of the matter by explicitly rejecting the claim by Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust that the “benefits” of a short tunnel would justify the new damage. Indeed, it says any such suggestion fundamentally misunderstands Britain’s commitment to sustain the Outstanding Universal Value of the site:

To suggest that this damage can be mitigated by benefits brought by the tunnel to the centre of the WHS, is to fundamentally misunderstand the commitments made to sustain OUV at the time of inscription of the property on the World Heritage List”.

“Fundamentally misunderstands” – you can’t get a clearer condemnation than that! So much for telling people being able to hear skylarks at the stones is worth imposing light pollution on the winter solstice spectacle! Let Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust tell the Government they are utterly tired of putting lipstick on a pig and it must think again.

 

please-remember

Proposed Stonehenge road scheme will compromise ancient monument’s setting and sacred precinct

In an unprecedented move, 21 experts on Stonehenge have joined together in their objection to the A303 tunnel scheme proposed by Highways England. The group comprises senior archaeologists, among them 12 professors, who have carried out internationally recognised research within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS) within the last ten years or more.

The group welcomes schemes to improve the setting of Stonehenge and associated monuments, but feels strongly that the short tunnel scheme (of 2.9km) places important archaeological remains at undue risk, and impacts on the integrity of the WHS. The group’s principal objections are that:

  • The creation of new sections of dual carriageway and slip roads beyond the tunnel but still within the boundary of the WHS would set a dangerous precedent by allowing large-scale destructive development within a WHS, potentially threatening its status and integrity.
  • The construction of the western tunnel portal and new sections of road would destroy part of a sacred precinct created around Stonehenge and the Normanton Down barrow group 3500 years ago. This massive enclosure, originally comprising ditches, banks and palisades (known as the Stonehenge Palisade) is an integral part of Stonehenge’s sacred landscape. Furthermore, the westerly section of new road would run through an area with an unusual and nationally important concentration of long barrows (burial monuments) belonging to the millennium prior to Stonehenge.
  • The proposed siting of the western tunnel portal and its approach road will generate light pollution that would impact on the key midwinter sunset alignment from Stonehenge.
  • At its eastern end, construction of the tunnel portal here may have an effect on groundwater conditions which could detrimentally impact the survival of nationally important Mesolithic remains at Blick Mead.
  • There has been no effective consultation with the expert group, who between them have unprecedented knowledge of the prehistoric landscape of the WHS.

 The iconic status of Stonehenge and international importance of associated archaeological remains within its landscape demand that a scheme is devised which offers the highest standard in heritage protection. The group requests that other options be given further consideration, including the creation of a longer tunnel or a southern surface loop that avoids the WHS.

Simon Jenkins, ex Chairman of The National Trust, cuts through the false narrative of “a tunnel intended to restore tranquility” with devastating accuracy. Time is short, please act today.

“Stonehenge is not like France’s Lascaux Caves, so fragile they have had to be closed in favour of a facsimile. What you see is what you get, robust stones requiring little upkeep. Indeed their thrill is as much the view from afar as from close to, and is enjoyed by millions who drive past on their way to the West Country. It is the thrill of a glimpse, a passing reminder of the longevity of human habitation in this land. I love this view, as I do the distant sight of Lindisfarne or Arundel or Dover. Motorists are as entitled as paying visitors to delight in the English landscape.

English Heritage’s vision of Stonehenge is of a disordered jumble of stones set in a lawn within a serene park. Fair enough, but for millions of people the distant view from the road is no less valid. I find it extraordinary to spend, at the last count, £540 million marginally to improve the Stonehenge environs for one group of beneficiaries.

The A303 bottleneck could be cured by leaving the existing road one way westbound, and finding an alternative pathway to the south for an eastbound route. The landscape would look much as it does now but without the jams. Motorists would continue to get an uplifting glimpse of their past. The Wiltshire hillside would be scarred but it would not be torn open. Millions of pounds would be saved.”

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Should millions of travellers be deprived forever of this iconic view – and is the promise that paying customers would then have a tranquil experience false and impossible to deliver? Please tell Highways England how you feel by the end of today.

It’s a plain fact: 21 top archaeologists have announced they are opposed to the short tunnel yet Highways England is ignoring them and says: “We are working closely with key organisations within the World Heritage site, and we continue to find the best solution possible to improve journeys for drivers while also protecting Stonehenge.” But logic suggests that if Highways England was really focused on protecting Stonehenge it wouldn’t be “working closely” with the organisations answerable to the Government but with those 21 top archaeologists who aren’t. Yes?

So how could we have got to the brink of such a tragic position? Andy Brockman explains – see “Expert Submission poses Stonehenge dilemma for Historic England, English Heritage and National Trust“….
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne changed Historic England’s mission from that of being primarily a conservation body and the Government’s arms length technical and legal advisor as guardian of England’s heritage, to one of supporting explicitly what the Government defines in the National Planning Policy Framework as “sustainable development”. If the Government is determined eventually to force through the short tunnel option on the basis that it represents such a sustainable solution to a national infrastructure issue, the archaeologists at Historic England could find themselves forced to defend, support, and even promote, a solution which the rest of the archaeological and heritage world views as utterly unacceptable, possibly because the senior management of the body might fear being further sidelined and starved of resources by a vengeful Whitehall and Downing Street.

PLEASE WRITE TO HIGHWAYS ENGLAND. TIME IS SHORT.

As might be expected, Rescue’s consultation response is both comprehensive and inarguable, see here, it’s well worth reading, but we’d like to highlight one particular sentence :

realignment-wont-do.

The inarguable reality is that the tunnel is too short to avoid inflicting massive new damage on what English Heritage say is “an outstandingly rich archaeological landscape” and moving one end  of it marginally would NOT change that fact. It is hard to imagine professional archaeologists don’t know that, so recent statements by Historic England, The National Trust and English Heritage that they have concerns about particular aspects of the proposals looks more like reputation protection than heritage protection. Their single concern should be that they are supporting the scheme at all.

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