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As the fate of HS2 hangs by a financial thread we are reminded of our article about Stonehenge almost exactly 11 years ago, on 29 January 2009.

Could the World Heritage Landscape be about to be saved a second time?

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ex-12“Mention the “Stonehenge saga” and most people think of decades of frustrating delay, indecision, and inactivity. But we’re inclined to take a more cheerful view. It looks possible that an announcement is imminent that will mark an important stage – not the end of the discussions but an end, at least, to the worst of the threats to the monument.

For a long time, the “official” push was for a “short tunnel” involving building two miles of new roadway over the World Heritage Area in defiance of the wishes of UNESCO and practically every archaeological and heritage body. So much for public consultation! Thankfully, finance came to the monument’s aid and the plan was abandoned.


The upheaval of HS2 is manna for treasure-hungry archaeologists”


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First, archaeologists aren’t treasure-hungry. Only treasure hunters are treasure-hungry!

Second, that’s not the only disservice to heritage which that careless headline may deliver. Soon it may be there’s another huge upheaval with hundreds of other archaeologists engaged in another massive series of digs, sifting through many millions of cubic feet of the archaeological layers of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site prior to construction of new access roads.

That scheme is opposed by UNESCO and most independent archaeologists and it would do heritage great harm if supporters of the tunnel trumpeted that process as a welcome benefit of the scheme (as indeed they already have) and the press then magnified the claim by calling it a knowledge “bonanza”.

Of course it would generate great knowledge, in a process first described years ago by a slick government spin-doctor as “preservation by record”. But it’s important the public aren’t misled: the knowledge will be totally inadequate compensation for massive heritage destruction to a World Heritage landscape.

 

The Transport Action Network has some hopeful news for those opposed to the damage: “Boris Johnson has reportedly instructed his Cabinet to cull large “legacy projects and told them that everything is on the table, including ‘sacred cows’ and ‘pet projects’.” Nothing fits that description better than the Stonehenge short tunnel, a vote-catcher proposed two Prime Ministers ago and not needed for vote-catching by the current incumbent.

Indeed, it may well be calculated that Mr. Johnson risks world-wide reputational damage if it goes ahead: new destruction to a world-famous icon in the teeth of opposition by UNESCO is yet to fully register in the international conscience but may do so the moment Grant Shapps gives the go-ahead. “The British are going to dig up a mile of the Stonehenge landscape for approaches to a tunnel, surely not?”

Then there’s the cost: it’s been £1.7 or £1.8 billion for ages, and there’s no sign of an up-to-date figure. We can all work out why that is and everyone knows that, like all such projects, the cost will escalate vastly before the end, especially as it involves tunnelling in unpredictable phosphatic chalk.

But worst of all is that even on those costs it has “an unusually low benefit-cost ratio of just 29 pence benefit per £1 spent” and only if you include the highly implausible cultural heritage valuation study, does the BCR creep over the £1 mark to £1.08.” Highly implausible is putting it kindly! How do you cost the negative cultural cost of destroying millions of cubic feet of the upper levels of Europe’s most important prehistoric landscape?

On Twitter, English Heritage has just asked:
 
“From wonderful Whitby and spectacular Stonehenge to glorious Goodrich and terrific Tintagel. With so many of you receiving a shiny new membership for Christmas, which historic places are top of the list to visit this year?”
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Answer:
It’s obvious!  Stonehenge before they damage it forever.
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Quick, before they also close the curtains on the “Turner view” on the A303 and start charging you a fortune to even look at our national icon!

The Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has just said that targeting cultural sites in Iran would breach international warfare conventions. He did not criticise the US president directly over his threats but said: “We have been very clear that cultural sites are protected under international law and we would expect that to be respected.”

This makes Grant Shapps’ decision very simple: will he authorise massive damage to Stonehenge and such monuments in peacetime which Britain wouldn’t countenance in wartime?

How many cups of coffee will it take?

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Will the President’s threat to target sites important to Iranian culture work against Stonehenge?

  • At this moment Grant Shapps is making the final decision on the tunnel and everyone knows it will be a political decision, not one based on the merits of the case.
  • It will be against the background that we have just voted to make ourselves totally dependant on Donald Trump’s goodwill.

So … what are the chances the British Government will make a big declaration that it is profoundly wrong to deliberately damage our leading cultural site at the very moment when Trump is threatening, perhaps with our help, to damage Iranian ones? Slim, it would seem.

 

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You can go inside the circle four times a year, but only if you are fit enough to stand in the cold and dark for many hours. If you aren’t, well, your only option is to pay a truly extortionate £47. On which planet is that possibly fair?

It’s easily fixed: far more access sessions inside the stones at more convenient times, straight after closing time on summer evenings. Pre-booked to limit numbers and not free but at a much lower charge.

Shouldn’t the full Stonehenge experience be available to everyone at a reasonable cost – including the unfit, the unspiritual and those who don’t want to dress up as ducks? Why is the current access policy discriminatory?

 

Highways England is campaigning for the short tunnel, but did you know its shares are all owned by the Secretary of State for Transport, the person who will make the final decision? It means he’s judge, jury, and advocate! To which you can add sneaky: here’s the pro-tunnel campaigning advice Highways England has been spreading around to sympathizers:

Social Media: You could follow A303 Twitter (and Facebook when we launch that), and encourage local community contacts to do the same.  You can comment – potentially tagging political and other influencers, and share with your own followers. You can also create and use community hashtag eg #4stonehengetunnel (which other community supporters can use) – this helps extend the reach of Tweets. You could follow scheme opponents on social media, correcting misinformation where you are qualified (and comfortable) to do so I do appreciate many of you don’t use Twitter/Facebook, but there will be people in your groups/communities that do.

Advice on proactively lobbying/adding support to scheme: You could write a letter to political/influencers expressing your local opinion, and copy to local papers. Or write a letter to local papers or specific national titles (e.g the Guardian) asking for the opportunity to put the case for your community. These could be from either individuals, communities or groups of communities. You could do a similar thing via social media tagging specific people/media. You could express your opinion by participating in a corridor advocacy video we are planning, or volunteer to be included in our upcoming campaign activity. (This does not need to be a video!) You could also be prepared to be approached by the media for comment.

Use existing business connections/memberships (eg chamber of commerce?
Talk about scheme 1-2-1 or at networking events. Identify potential speaking and engagement opportunities, and of course potential new supporters. Put forward scheme as agenda points during parish meetings – we could provide updates

Widen A303 comms reach: Sign up (via re-vamped scheme website – it’s worth a look) to newsletter and forward to contacts. Share content with community social media and publications

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Grant Shapps, who failed O-Level Science and is now judge, jury, and advocate for the short tunnel.

 

The account of the latest investigations sounds reassuring. But, as usual, there are glaring omissions (what did they actually find?) and distortions (the tunnel will avoid “important archaeological sites” (of course it will, it will be 40 m deep! But why no mention of a mile of new approach roads on the surface?!)

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Not that the potential contractors are so coy. It’s reported they are nervous about “the archaeology risk.” That risk is twofold: when archaeology is found there will be unpaid delays while it is recorded and then when it’s finally bulldozed away huge negative publicity will fall on the hapless contractors!

 

 

There have been countless theories about the design of Stonehenge but this one, which appeared in the Guardian in 2012, is memorable:

“A team of academics have revealed the “sonic experience” that early visitors to Stonehenge would have heard. Scholars from the Universities of Salford, Huddersfield and Bristol used an American replica of the monument to investigate its audio history. Salford’s Dr Bruno Fazenda said they had found the site reacted to sound “in a way that would have been noticeable to the Neolithic man”. He said the research would allow a “more holistic” view of its past.

In February, scientist Steven Waller published a paper suggesting the design of Stonehenge could have been inspired by music. Dr Fazenda, who has been involved with the acoustic testing of the monument for four years, said his own research had not revealed if this was the case or not. “Stonehenge is very well known, but people are still trying to find out what it was built for,” he said. “We thought that doing this would bring an element of archaeology that so far hasn’t been looked at.”

The auditory effect of Stonehenge in Neolithic ears is indeed a fascinating subject. But what about the auditory effect of Stonehenge on modern ears?  Auditory illusions are still happening at Stonehenge – for how else can one describe the sound of people in official or prominent roles claiming that the damage caused by a mile of new dual carriageway across the World Heritage Landscape is an improvement to that landscape?

One day academics will try to make sense of how and why Trumpism – the blatant repetition of a plain untruth – was applied to our national icon.

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