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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.
Surely not? Well yes, it seems so. For after years of defending Stonehenge (“Don’t sell Stonehenge short”) the Trust has stabbed the World Heritage Site in the back by coming out in support of a short tunnel. The Government has admitted the u-turn has been pivotal so if the tunnel goes ahead the Trust’s finger prints will be on it forever, and they know it.
It’s the knowing which connects them to Shropshire Council. The latter have worked tirelessly to allow the land around Oswestry hillfort to be built on while knowing they shouldn’t. How do we know they know? Well, just last week their barrister Sarah Clover told a public enquiry (in Oswestry, ironically) that building 68 houses over in Ellesmere would constitute harm to the open countryside”. So both organisations know they’re on the wrong side of right.
BTW, here’s what Private Eye thinks of the Dismal Undemocratic Repugnate of Shropshireland:
Nicely put. Maybe they’ll do a job on the Trust too. Not only is it supporting heritage damage at Stonehenge it has also just let a previously expelled rule-breaking hunt back on it’s land on Exmoor. Tally ho! The Dismal Undemocratic Repugnate of Trustland – preserving the land in it’s care for ever, for everyone. Even cruel sods.
From Hansard, 1st March:
“John Glen: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. There seems to be some ambiguity concerning the process at this time, given that Highways England is examining alternative routes. Will the Minister clarify the purpose of that evaluation?
Andrew Jones: It is always appropriate to consider options broadly to ensure that the scheme is absolutely the right one, but there is no doubt whatsoever here; we are committed to delivering a 1.8-mile tunnel at Stonehenge.“
Translated as: no more pretence about alternative routes. The public are welcome to say what they like in a consultation process but we are going to build a 1.8 mile tunnel. There is no doubt whatsoever.
PS: Not if English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust said no. It’s pretty simple really.
We are thinking about a short film to celebrate the last 30 years as a WHS. What would you include as highlights to celebrate?
Good idea! Let’s celebrate the fact that the 7 attributes constituting its Outstanding Universal Value have been recognised by all parties “to apply to the whole property” and this has kept the whole property safe from new damage!
English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust, joint supporters of a short tunnel at Stonehenge, may wish to look away now. We are reproducing below an extract from a book published last week by UNESCO – “World Heritage Today in Europe” which has a bearing on the matter. (It was published with the generous support of the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy. Had it been financed in Britain it may well have said something different, so hurrah for the French!)
Case Study – Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites’
The property ‘Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites’ was inscribed on the List in 1986. Following this decision, a draft Statement of Significance was prepared, based on documentation considered by ICOMOS and the World Heritage Committee at the time of inscription. The Statement was developed by the property Steering Committees and other stakeholders, submitted to UNESCO by the government of the United Kingdom, and then agreed by the World Heritage Committee in 2008. In accordance with the requirements for Statements of Outstanding Universal Value outlined in the Operational Guidelines in 2005, a full Statement of Outstanding Universal Value was adopted by the Committee in 2013.
Attributes were first developed for Stonehenge when drafting its 2009 Management Plan. This involved a wide stakeholder group managed through the Stonehenge Advisory Forum and included a three-month public consultation period involving an exhibition, a questionnaire, a website and a polling of local residents. The attributes were reviewed during the development of the first Management Plan to cover the whole property, adopted in 2015, and it was recognised that they apply to the entire property. At each stage, great care was taken to ensure that the attributes were firmly based on the text of the agreed Statement.
The attributes are:
1. The global fame and iconic status of Stonehenge itself;
2. The physical remains of the Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial monuments and associated sites;
3. The siting of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial sites and monuments in the landscape;
4. The design of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial sites and monuments in relation to the skies and astronomy;
5. The siting of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial sites and monuments in relation to each other;
6. The disposition, physical remains and settings of the key Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary, ceremonial and other monuments and sites of the period, which together form a landscape without parallel;
7. The influence of the remains of Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary and ceremonial monuments and their landscape settings on architects, artists, historians, archaeologists and others.
The whole process helped to clarify the understanding of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value among key stakeholders. The attributes are now proving to be a useful tool in assessing potential impacts on Outstanding Universal Value, particularly in clarifying its spatial implications for development planners. They will constitute the basis of formal planning guidance for the property.
Making a case for a short tunnel will require showing that not just one but all seven of those attributes won’t be damaged whereas common sense would suggest they all will be. Massive entrance trenches can’t be talked away. So far there has been silence on the issue, just talk about “the benefits”. Shortly the mattter will have to be addressed. Look out for fibs, foutards, re-interpretations and smokescreens.