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Not true.

Doesn’t the Public deserve better?

Remember how we reported in January that Republicans in Utah, USA, were hell bent on reversing President Obama’s protection of the Bears Ears National Monument? They wanted to give a different slant to “sacrosanct”: they were happy to protect the area subject to an important proviso: it could still be damaged as and when they  considered it necessary. In other words, not sacrosanct at all.

Familiar? Think of all the times English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust have said The Stonehenge World Heritage Site ought to be damaged because they think it’s necessary (or to be more accurate, because the Government wills it). The three of them have just written an awful joint letter to The Guardian saying: “rather than an act of desecration, the current tunnel proposal presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do justice to some of the nation’s most important ancient monuments and landscape.” (Keep that phrase in mind: “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do justice to some of the nation’s most important ancient monuments and landscape.”)

The question arises, what about the concept of the World Heritage landscape being sacrosanct? Can that be ignored merely because they think it’s a good idea? To put their behaviour in context, look who is now talking like them: President Trump says he is cancelling the US Antiquities Act and is going to open up America’s Monuments to ‘Tremendously Positive Things’ For “tremendously positive things” read “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do justice to some of the nation’s most important ancient monuments and landscape.” EH, HE and NT can spin till they’re blue in the face but they’re riding roughshod over “sacrosanct” and taking the same stance as Donald Trump. As his critics say: he is “using never-tested and dubious legal authority to try to reverse national monument designations”. And so are they, but ours is a world heritage monument.

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:

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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.

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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.

At a time when their support for a short tunnel at Stonehenge is doing worse than nothing for their public image, Historic England are recruiting a media manager.  Parts of the job description might be important ….

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Good luck to the successful candidate! He/she will need to be pretty good.

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!

John Hayes

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…..

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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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