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We first published this article in 2019 but since English Heritage hasn’t yet taken the bait we thought we’d repeat it. You can never embarrass them too much!.

 


 

TWO Stonehenge webcams to be set up?

English Heritage has placed a webcam in the centre of Stonehenge! As a result, as they say: “Celestial sun-seekers can now enjoy a personal Stonehenge sunrise all year round”. Bravo!

Also, they’re putting a second one at the very place Turner painted his iconic panorama of the stones within their landscape and beneath an enormous sky, to compensate for the fact that vista will be hidden forever from travellers by the short tunnel scheme.

Ed: That last bit is a lie. Did you really think a body blinded by its own pompous, elitist certainty would want to compensate tens of millions of ordinary people for the loss of the iconic Turner vista? Plus, putting a webcam where Turner stood would involve admitting they’re supporting the loss of an immensely precious and irreplacable cultural asset, and you’ll never, ever hear English Heritage, Historic England or The National Trust confessing to that.

 


 

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Not a view worth bothering about, eh?

 

(We also have something to say about a webcam needing to be provided by that other public engagement pretender, The National Trust. Watch this space later on this week.)

 

Rachel Maclean. Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Dept for Transport):
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“The A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme is currently subject to a legal challenge but if the project was to proceed, as approved by the Secretary of State for Transport on 12 November 2020, then there will not be a toll for accessing the proposed tunnel. Provision for a toll was not included in the approved Development Consent Order.”

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Not quite the case though is it Rachel? Anyone driving along the A303 hoping to see Stonehenge (and there are tens of thousands daily) won’t be able to unless they leave the road and pay £21.10 per person to English Heritage. Next time, please mention that!

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UNESCO is opposed to the short tunnel, so why are neither the Government nor its yes-bodies publicly confronting that fact? Is it that they realise that if Britain is widely known to be defying UNESCO at such a place in such a way there would be massive world anger – so it’s best to downplay it for now?

Not that fear of international censure or even ridicule constrains the Government. A country that threatened to break international law AND deploy gunships against the fishermen of its democratic neighbours is unlikely to heed what UNESCO says.

One wonders if the managements of English Heritage et al realised they would be hitching their wagon to those who dream of lost imperialistic glory and gunboat diplomacy? People who would be delighted with a two-fingered salute to the snowflakes running UNESCO. We suspect there’s quite a lot of buttock-clenching going on in all the conservation bodies.

But unlike Brexiters, they still have a chance to change their minds, and say no, this imperialistic arrogance is crazy. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if they did!

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   HMS English Heritage: defending OUR monument from foreign interference?

 

Spaceship Dawn is in the news just now. After a journey of 3 billion miles, it is now in permanent orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres and has just reported back the discovery of an enormous lake of saltwater.

Back in 2007 we successfully applied to NASA to have Dawn carry the simple message below into space where it will stay forever.

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So it is to be hoped that those attempting to subvert the intentions of the World Heritage Convention and falsely spin a road project as a heritage enhancement exercise will sometimes glance upwards and reflect that what they are supporting is profoundly wrong. We suspect they all will.

After years in which we’ve documented 39 instances of misleading statements (and worse) by tunnel-supporting bodies, and a month in which there have been a further 9 by English Heritage (in the Telegraph) and another 3 by the leaders of EH, Heritage England, and the National Trust (in the Guardian), the New Year seems a good time for a simple public statement of the underlying plain truth that can’t be denied or spun. Something like this, so that everyone could see it!

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23 December 2020

Campaigners have issued a legal claim in their fight to halt the major A303 road project that would carve deep cuttings to a tunnel within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS).

Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site (SSWHS) has applied for judicial review of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ decision to grant development consent to the eight-mile project that includes a two-mile tunnel past Stonehenge, with cuttings and tunnel entrances within the WHS.

pre-action letter sent by Leigh Day solicitors on behalf of SSWHS did not receive a satisfactory response, and so a claim for judicial review was filed on December 22 before the December 24 deadline.

Permission for the A303 scheme was granted against the advice of a five-person panel of expert inspectors, the Examining Authority (ExA), who said the hugely controversial project would permanently harm the integrity of the WHS and seriously harm its authenticity. It will be argued that the scheme is contrary to the Wiltshire Core Strategy and the requirements of the World Heritage Convention.

The Stonehenge site, together with Avebury, was declared by UNESCO to be a WHS of Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) in 1986 on account of the sheer size of their megaliths, the sophistication of their concentric plans and their complexes of Neolithic and Bronze Age sites and monuments.

The prehistoric monuments and sites preserved within the WHS form landscapes without parallel, says UNESCO.

SSWHS says Mr Shapps’ decision to allow the road tunnel to be built alongside the site, with the tunnel entrance within, is unlawful. It makes its case on the following grounds:

  • Harm to each heritage asset within the road project should have been weighed in the balance, instead of considering the “historic environment” as a whole
  • The advice provided by Historic England did not provide the evidential basis for the Secretary of State’s conclusion of “less than substantial harm” to any of the assets impacted by the project. His disagreeing with the advice of the ExA was therefore unlawful
  • The Secretary of State allowed purported “heritage benefits” to be weighed against heritage harm, before deciding whether that overall harm was “substantial” or “less than substantial”, which was unlawful under the NPS: the primary policy test that the Secretary of State must use when making decisions for nationally significant infrastructure projects. The Secretary of State also double-counted what he considered to be the “heritage benefits”
  • The Secretary of State failed to consider whether a grant of development consent (which would, even on his own conclusions, cause harm to the OUV of the WHS) would amount to a breach of international obligations under the World Heritage Convention
  • The Secretary of State left out of account mandatory material considerations: the breach of various local policies; the impact of his finding of heritage harm which undermined the business case for the proposal and the existence of at least one alternative, namely a longer tunnel with less impact on the heritage assets

Tom Holland, president of the Stonehenge Alliance whose supporters set up SSWHS to take forward the legal action, said: 

Bearing in mind the weight of opposition to the Government’s plans for a highly intrusive road scheme through the Stonehenge landscape, it is hard to believe that the Transport Secretary has given them the green light. The Planning Inspectorate, after a painstaking, six-month investigation, advised against them. So too, appalled by the damage the Government’s plans would inflict on a World Heritage Site, did UNESCO. How the public feel can be gauged by the fact that over £46,000 has been raised to take the Government to court over the plans in only a few weeks. Let us hope that the law can come to the rescue of a landscape that ranks as our most precious and sacred.” 

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said:

“Our client strongly believes that the Secretary of State’s approach to assessing the harm caused by this road scheme to the heritage assets in the Stonehenge area was unlawful, because he underestimated the overall impact by averaging it out and offsetting the purported benefits before appreciating the true extent of the damage. Our client will argue that, in doing so, the Secretary of State failed to follow national policy and breached international law under the World Heritage Convention.”

Campaigners are fundraising for their legal action and by December 22 had raised £46,746.

Setting out to “reveal the facts behind some of the most common myths and misconceptions about the A303 Stonehenge scheme” Highways England have been making fudge.

Fudge #1 – The tunnel is going under the Stonehenge 

“This is just not true”, says Highways England, conveniently overlooking that Stonehenge is a 5.6 km wide UNESCO World Heritage Site and the proposed A303 tunnel within it is only 3km long.

Fudge #2 – “You’ll not be seeing bulldozers at Stonehenge”, says Highways England.

Only then to state: “the only equipment (above ground) in the World Heritage Site will be at the tunnel entrances and cuttings” – so we will be seeing bulldozers at Stonehenge!

Fudge #3 – Stonehenge will be damaged during construction

“Again – not true”, says Highways England, conveniently overlooking a wide deep 1km long cutting to be excavated through a Beaker cemetery and remains of an Early Bronze Age settlement within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

Fudge #4 – We’ll lose the free view of Stonehenge 

“If you’re a driver, this is true,” says Highways England. Big of them. Passengers as well as drivers of upwards of 24,000 vehicles a day will lose the experience of encountering the free view of Stonehenge from the A303 forever.

Fudge #5 – The traffic is caused by people slowing down to look at the stones (just put a fence up instead)

“A fence wouldn’t solve this and would damage those things that make the World Heritage Site special – creating a barrier, something we are trying to remove by placing the A303 in a 2-mile tunnel”, says Highways England.

Of all the fudged claims made by Highways England this is surely a contender for a prize – so a fence “would damage those things that make the World Heritage Site special – creating a barrier” but a tunnel and attached cuttings totalling 4.5km in a 5.6km wide World Heritage Site isn’t creating a barrier and damaging what makes this place special?

Having featured the Highways England video posted on social media 16 December 2020, advice for SMEs (small and medium-sized business enterprises) which momentarily included some small print in the top left corner, the Heritage Journal have been informed that Highways England posted an almost identical video on social media 17 December 2020 that no longer included this small print:

‘Filmed before COVID restrictions’.

At the beginning of December it was reported that 75% of SMEs have endured a negative impact from the pandemic in 2020, tens of thousands of jobs are at risk and the UK is predicted to emerge from the pandemic in ‘one of the worst global positions.’

In view of which what are Highways England playing at?

Highways England’s A303 Stonehenge Community posted a 20 second video on social media 16 December 2020, featuring advice from a supplier to a road scheme in another part of the country, which in addition to sound was spelled out in large print:

The main advice I would give to SMEs [small and medium-sized business enterprises] that are looking to work on projects such as these is don’t be shy. Be brave, be bold, if you genuinely believe that you’ve got the capability to support projects and deliver on these projects, go for it. 

If spotted – fading in after 2 seconds then disappearing by 6 seconds – some small print momentarily appeared in the top left corner of the video as seen in the accompanying screenshot:

‘Filmed before COVID restrictions’.

So this interview was filmed before it was revealed that the independent Planning Inspectorate had recommended refusal of the A303 Stonehenge (Amesbury to Berwick Down) tunnel scheme.

The interview was filmed before it was announced that legal advice was being sought on a potential challenge to the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision to ignore the findings of 5 senior planning inspectors.

It was filmed before active protests in opposition to the decision to proceed with the tunnel were launched in the Stonehenge landscape.

In view of the above, has Highways England provided the supplier in the video with an update then courteously asked permission before posting the footage in these very different times?

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