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Historic England says the Stonehenge tunnel would be “the biggest single investment ever made by Government in this country’s heritage.” No. It was always a road investment. For avoidance of doubt: the Government’s published purpose was “to turn the A303 into a strategic corridor to the south-west” (and of course, to get votes!) It was subsequently painted as a heritage investment by the 3 bodies trying to put lipstick on a pig.
Neither “heritage” nor anything like it passed David Cameron’s lips when he visited the site for the announcement. In fact, he let the moggy out of the bag that day. Just after being briefed by the Highways Agency and the Trust he stated, unconvincingly: “It’s quite a long tunnel but I think that’s what makes it such a successful plan”. No David! They may have told you it’s quite a long tunnel but actually it’s a far too short tunnel for conservation purposes and that’s what makes it a disastrous plan and one of the biggest single destructive actions ever made by Government against this country’s heritage!
Hard to believe, but true. Even though Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust say they are committed to ensure that “only schemes which protect and enhance the World Heritage Site are progressed” it has just been revealed that Wessex Archaeology are secretly test digging (see this) at the very spot where the entrance to one version of the route would be and it’s at the very place where it would do maximum damage to the significance of Stonehenge:
[Hat tip to Tim Daw]
Ask English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust, they’ll all confirm that the central purpose of Stonehenge was the alignment with the winter solstice sunset as seen at that very spot. Yet the bizarre situation has arisen whereby they are all three pushing for a short tunnel which would involve the visible evidence of the central meaning of Stonehenge being destroyed.
Once again it comes from the National Trust, which says, (in response to its own question, about whether there any other options rather than building a tunnel):
“Other options within the WHS, such as a surface dual carriageway, would have a major and negative impact on the Site and its monuments. They would also do real damage to the reputation of the UK as caring for its heritage.”
Yet the Trust is supporting a short tunnel, which itself involves a long stretch of “surface dual carriageway“, would have “a major and negative impact on the Site and its monuments” and would “do real damage to the reputation of the UK as caring for its heritage.“
According to the National Trust, the UNESCO/ICOMOS report
“mirrors the views held jointly by Historic England, the National Trust and English Heritage, in acknowledging that a fully-bored tunnel of at least 2.9km could help to significantly improve the World Heritage Site and that the design and location of all aspects of the road improvement scheme need to be carefully and fully considered”
The report said:
“we are concerned that associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the World Heritage landscape that cannot be set aside, however great the benefits of a tunnel”
which is the opposite.
Stand by for the ninth!
Let’s be clear. The Trust is supporting a short tunnel, and that entails building massive new roads inside the World Heritage Site. So when it says “a tunnel would improve the setting” it’s asserting that the setting is only a subset of the WHS and the rest of the protected area is less precious and more expendable.
It’s a crazy, unsupported claim, another yowling moggy, but this time with horrible echoes – for an elastic setting, a setting of convenience, unilaterally declared to facilitate destruction, was Tarmac PLC’s strategy for claiming a moral right to annihilate the pre-historic landscape surrounding Thornborough Henges. But Tarmac PLC is a mean-minded, ruthless profit machine so can be forgiven, or at least understood whereas The National Trust is a conservation charity which is supposed to protect special places “for ever, for everyone” so can’t be.
One wonders whether members and employees of the National Trust are content for it to be talking like a gravel extraction company?
It didn’t take long did it?!
The Times has said (presumably having been briefed) that “In May the tunnel won the backing of Unesco“.
No. The advisory mission for UNESCO expressed misgivings that a short tunnel of 2.9km would be technically possible without irreversible damage to the World Heritage Site’s Outstanding Universal Value: “we are concerned that associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the World Heritage landscape that cannot be set aside, however great the benefits of a tunnel.“
By what possible interpretation is that “backing the tunnel”?
Watch out for the seventh!
Last month we questioned why Historic England had invited lots of prominent archaeologists to discuss “developments in conservation” (see here). To associate them with the idea conservation has changed and driving new roads over the World Heritage Site is now valid? Perhaps, for the word was then dropped and they’ll now be talking instead about “research and the potential for further discoveries” (see here).
But it’s not just archaeologists being manoeuvered. ICOMOS has been wrongly characterised as pro-short tunnel (see here) and the public are being as well (see here). Historic England’s guidelines have been unilaterally changed to say destruction is OK if there are “important planning justifications” (see here). More recently English Heritage seems intent on misleading the public by offering free balloon flights (see here) “to get a sense of how the removal of the A303 from the landscape would transform the World Heritage Site” but not mentioning it would involve cutting massive new roads over another part of the site (the elephant in the landscape as Stonehenge Alliance calls it). We suspect doing that offends every conservation instinct of EH personnel but it’s up to them to deny it.
You may well feel 5 yowling moggies are now out of the bag, each one designed to further the Government’s wishes. Will there be more? Probably, since the plain truth is that massive new roads inside the WHS cannot be justified without further disreputable tactics by Britain’s main conservation bodies. Future historians may view this as a shameful era.
Last Tuesday officials seized earthmovers hired by a temple committee as it was destroying the Karez heritage site in Naubad, India. Following a tip-off, a team led by Tahsildar Jagannath Reddy and those from the Departments of Forest and Mining, inspected the work of cutting trees and levelling hillocks on a portion of the Manjra plateau. They seized the equipment and (most satisfyingly), filed cases against workers and persons who had ordered the work!
If only Tahsildar Jagannath Reddy was an Ancient Monument Inspector in Britain! We could tip him off that 3 conservation organisations are currently plotting to let loose a battalion of bulldozers across a mile of the World Heritage Site.
You might find it hard to believe that such organisations are in favour of such a thing. But it’s true. Meanwhile one of them, English Heritage, is going for the lower-than-populist approach, no doubt to distract from the Stonehenge scandal ….
As everyone knows, The National Trust is part of the short tunnel lobby, the group calling for massively damaging new roads within the World Heritage Site. To this end it has suddenly deployed what looks to be the mother of all dirty tricks. It has invited people to fill in a “Stonehenge landscape Spirit of Place survey”. Why? And why now?
Well mostly the questions are bland and meaningless, but Question 2 isn’t: “Is there any aspect of the Stonehenge landscape atmosphere or ‘feel’ that we should be particularly careful to preserve?” The proper answer is “all of it – the World Heritage Convention doesn’t authorise cherry picking” but the agenda, blatantly, is to get people to innocently pick a favourite, which of course will be the stones, and to then announce in a big press release that the public wants the stone circle’s atmosphere to be preserved over and above the other parts of the World Heritage Site. That would fit in with the Trust’s stance – building massive new roads in part of the WHS is justified if it enhances the atmosphere round the stones.
So it gives every appearance of an attempt to harvest well-meaning people’s votes and use them in a way they didn’t authorise by claiming that since most people put preserving the atmosphere round the circle at the top of their priorities they therefore support the wrecking of other parts of the WHS. If that was the intention it has blown up in their faces and dealt yet another massive blow to the Trust’s reputation.
From The Heritage Journal, 27 July 2005 :
“Heritage Action welcomes the news that the A303 improvement scheme that threatened loss of archaeology and further intrusion into the surroundings of Stonehenge has been withdrawn. However, we are concerned that other options will leave the entire WHS site fragmented by expanded approach roads that will cut into the heritage landscape of the Stonehenge complex and the archaeology it contains.
ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites, has also welcomed the news. They say: “We believe that the review announced by the Minister allows time for serious consideration to be given to alternative schemes for upgrading the A303 that do not involve cutting across the heart of the World Heritage site.”
Now, exactly 11 years later, it looks like the bloody bulldozers are back. The Government, English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust are effectively saying sod what ICOMOS said, we want new dual carriageways to be bulldozed deep and wide across at least a mile of the World Heritage Site.
If you’re outraged please sign the petition. (Incidentally, it’s to be hoped that if earth moving equipment is deployed at Stonehenge, none of it will belong to Mr Penny, the man convicted of allowing a Priddy Circle to be bulldozed. Why on earth would we think anything so crass would be allowed? Clue: it wouldn’t be the first time!)