Guns of the Armada
Editor Simon Denison
A Stonehenge for the new millennium
Plans for improving Stonehenge are still far from complete, warns George Lambrick
It is said that every generation gets the Stonehenge it deserves. For the last decade plans have been tossed around to try to find something worthy of a new generation and a new millennium. Now various proposals for Stonehenge are beginning to be formalized.
Designs for the A303 road scheme, including alternative tunnel options, are being worked up and assessed, with formal proposals due at the end of the year. A site has been bought, and a strikingly original design is being developed for a new visitor centre, with work now starting on its interpretive content. Preliminary ideas for a transit system leading from the visitor centre to the stones are being considered. Meanwhile an archaeological research framework is being finalized.
In terms of broader conservation, the National Trust has published a 30-year land-use plan for its own estate; while a condition survey of the archaeology of the World Heritage Site is underway. And defra has established a special agri-environment scheme, increasing the incentives for farmers in the Stonehenge and Avebury whs to take land out of cultivation.
In its 1998 statement about Stonehenge, the CBA enunciated two overriding aims that need to be applied to all these strands of development - first, the protection and conservation of Stonehenge and its archaeological surroundings; and second, the furtherance of public understanding. So how is it all coming together? Are we going to get a Stonehenge that the next generation can be proud of? It is certainly not in the bag yet.
The proposals to bury the A303 in a tunnel and to grass over the A344, which passes immediately by the stones, are fundamental to the vision of reuniting the Stonehenge landscape. There has been much controversy about how best to treat the roads, and at the CBA's recent meeting about Stonehenge and the roads (see Update) it was evident that a 2km bored tunnel for the A303 is now being seriously considered. Compared with the nominally favoured cut-and-cover version, a bored tunnel is likely not only to have long-term environmental advantages, but may also ease some severe construction logistics. Any extra benefits that might be gained from a much more expensive 4km bored tunnel need careful consideration - but following pressure from the National Trust, icomos UK, the CBA and others, the comparisons are now going to be made in the environmental assessment.
Once the roads are removed, the issue of achieving more benign physical use of the landscape will become more pressing, and here the National Trust's plan, backed up by the new agri-environment scheme, is an advance. But, welcome as this is, it still seems anomalous that within a World Heritage Site protection of sites being damaged by cultivation should be left to a voluntary incentive scheme.
And what about catering for the visitor? Improving visitor experience was the main driving force behind the vision for Stonehenge, but the heart-searching and changes of mind of the last decade over how and where to provide new visitor facilities have hardly inspired confidence.
Improving your visit
Now - and not before time - the National Trust and English Heritage are beginning to develop a real working partnership in drawing up proposals for visitor access and interpretation. They must provide a coherent 'package' for visitors through the visitor centre, transit system and arrangements for pedestrian and other forms of access. The package must meet visitors' varying interests, different degrees of mobility and different lengths of stay.
Arrangements put in place must also respect the long-term capacity of the area to absorb visitors without damaging the fabric and setting of Stonehenge and its surrounding monuments. The latest idea for the transit scheme, which includes what amounts to a new small road for pedestrians alongside the line of the Stonehenge Avenue, is not promising.
So there is still a good way to go before a really coherent and sustainable scheme for presenting Stonehenge to its many visitors is achieved, and time is pressing.
George Lambrick is Director of the CBA
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005