The voice of archaeology in Britain and beyond

Cover of British Archaeology 99

Issue 99

March / April 2008



Was missing body a Dutchman in Scotland?

Can international support save antiquities scheme?

Phase 2


Stonehenge: now what?
With the tunnel scheme scrapped, BA asks about the future

The wreck of the SS Mendi
John Gribble tells the story of forgotten war labourers

Philip Crummy and colleagues report on an elite cemetery at Camulodunum

on the web

Recommended websites
Seriously good free texts, and new Welsh date index


Views and responses

CBA correspondent

Campaigns, comment and communications from the CBA
Mike Heyworth introduces a new initiative to promote archaeology in the community


ISSN 1357-4442

Editor Mike Pitts


Stonehenge: now what?

Twenty years of surveys, committees, projects that came and went, a public inquiry and often bitter debate - all at huge cost and time - came to nought when the government announced that it had scrapped the Stonehenge roads project. What happens next? British Archaeology asked selected people for comment. Here are the responses received.


On November 19 2007, Paul Clifton reported for bbc South Today that the government was almost certain to cancel plans for a road tunnel past Stonehenge. The announcement came on December 6, in a written statement to parliament by the under-secretary of state for transport, Tom Harris. "There are no acceptable alternatives", he said, "to the 2.1km bored tunnel scheme". Yet at a cost of £540m, the project could not "be justified and would not represent best use of taxpayers' money". The future lay in "possible small scale improvements".

Though debate on the issues has a longer history (, the scrapped project originates with a 1985 report that considered roads and visitors. Since then every possible alternative route for the A303 has been tested, often more than once, as have numerous sites for a visitor centre. It was said research had cost the government £23m, but in January it was revealed – thanks to a question from Robert Key, local MP and active supporter of the scheme – that the transport and culture departments had spent £37.85m.

Stonehenge became part of a world heritage site in 1986. In 2000 a management plan, approved by the government and adopted by Salisbury district council as supplementary planning guidance, set out 26 objectives: amongst these were that a new, "world class" visitor centre should be sited outside the WHS; and that mitigation of "essential development" within the WHS should recognise buried archaeology and "the intervisual integrity" of monument settings.

The A303 Stonehenge project (known as "the published scheme") included a bypass for Winterbourne Stoke village, a flyover at Amesbury and the dualling of the trunk road (the tunnel hiding all of it otherwise visible from Stonehenge), relieving a traffic bottleneck and improving safety. The A344 was to be removed, along with present parking and visitor facilities at Stonehenge. The changes would have offered walkers and wildlife free movement, and facilitated access to the stones across grassed downland from a new visitor centre east of the WHS. The road proposals were approved at a 2004 public inquiry. The visitor centre received consent (conditional on the roads) in 2007. If the project had gone ahead, some £270m of the road costs would have been directly attributable to Stonehenge. The government culture department had pledged £10m towards English Heritage's £79m visitor centre, set also to benefit from a £26m Heritage Lottery grant.

The proposals deeply divided archaeologists and the public. Objectors, including the Council for British Archaeology and the National Trust (who changed views over the years; it owns land through which the tunnel would pass), pointed to the substantial intrusion of the western tunnel portal, and the surface dual carriageway further west, within the WHS. They wanted a longer tunnel. The most powerful voice in the final study – a further review of options in 2006, which again favoured the published scheme – seemed to be the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who backed the plans, as did the Society of Antiquaries of London.

As is clear from comments published here, there is a new desire from most parties to work together on a temporary solution – to last "at least 20 years", says the culture minister. A common call is to close the A344/A303 junction. The county council has stated that it could not approve this without a dual A303. Significant compromises will be needed from everyone. MP

Map of Proposed routes around the WHS of Stonehenge

Map from 2006 consultation on alternative routes (blue, black) to the A303 tunnel recommended by the 2004 public inquiry (red dashes); it favoured the red route. The world heritage site is coloured cream, Till and Avon rivers SSSI/SAC (special conservation areas) blue and village conservation areas brown. Earthworks and cropmarks drawn brown are scheduled ancient monuments. The A344 meets the A303 at Stonehenge Bottom. The new visitor centre was to have been built at Countess Roundabout, outside the WHS.

Margaret Hodge

minister of state for culture, media and sport

The announcement on December 6 that the government will not proceed with the A303 road improvements past Stonehenge was a disappointment for many – though not all – in the heritage sector. I share that disappointment, but support the decision. At a cost exceeding £500m and rising, the "published scheme" for the A303 with a bored tunnel past Stonehenge was simply not affordable.

Having taken this decision we must now focus all our energy on the future. Stonehenge is a unique and wonderful heritage site and both the visitor centre and the environment around it need urgent improvements. When people come to the UK, Stonehenge is a frequent place they choose to visit. 2012 provides us with a clear date by which I would like to see a new visitor centre in place with facilities which allow us to show Stonehenge to the world with pride.

Part of this work will include an assessment of the feasibility of closing the A344/A303 junction. We have wasted no time in beginning this work. Tom Harris and I chaired the first meeting of the Stonehenge project board, which includes all key stakeholders, on December 10. English Heritage is drawing up options and it is our intention to deliver a newvisitor centre which will endure for at least 20 years. We can do this if everybody is prepared towork together constructively and creatively, and I am encouraged by the startwe have already made.

Ed Vaizey

shadow minister for culture

It is not often that the cancellation of a two mile road scheme provokes an urgent question and a lengthy debate in parliament. But the cancellation of the proposed road tunnel at Stonehenge has caused consternation, not just in parliament, but far beyond.

Stonehenge has been a world heritage site since 1986. As Robert Key, the local MP who called the debate on Stonehenge at the end of last year, put it so eloquently:

"The stones are instantly recognisable, and are a worldwide symbol of our ancient heritage. They were shaped and erected more than 3,000 years ago, and their lintels, unique jointing and perfect geometry make Stonehenge the most sophisticated stone circle in the world. But it is more than just stones. Within the 2,600ha site are more than 400 scheduled ancient monuments in a ceremonial landscape that includes the avenue, the cursus and nearby Woodhenge. Just to the east lies Durrington Walls, where the people who built Stonehenge lived in a village of hundreds of houses that featured a stone-surfaced avenue. The secrets of Durrington Walls have only recently started to be revealed." [Westminster Hall debate Dec 18,]

This is a huge site, that deserves a proper setting and a proper plan. Yet after 10 years of discussion and delay, and after spending more than £30m of taxpayers' money on consultations and schemes, the government has called time on the much-needed infrastructure improvements, which would not only have immeasurably improved the setting of Stonehenge, but also have greatly enhanced road links to the rest of the south-west.

Embarrassingly, and thanks to the neglect and incompetence of this government, Stonehenge will now find itself in the dock at unesco, alongside the Palace of Westminster and the Tower of London, two other world heritage sites that are flirting with the endangered list because of government actions – or rather inaction.

But now that we are back at square one, what can be done? One Labour MP, during the debate, suggested Stonehenge be moved. If that is the level of debate on the Labour backbenches, we can ignore it. What can certainly be considered is pressing ahead with the new visitor centre – at the very least, a world-class facility should greet those visiting a world heritage site. And there will have to be urgent consideration for some kind of traffic scheme that will ease congestion and protect the site. Robert Key has suggested that the scheme should go ahead without the tunnel. I don't know enough of the detail to comment on whether that is a runner or not. But if the scheme is now too expensive ever to be countenanced by the Treasury, we need a realistic alternative that does not take 10 years and £38m to find.

Mike Parker Pearson

co-editor From Stonehenge to the Baltic

Thankfully, the tunnel didn't go ahead. The cuttings leading into it would have formed deep scars – creating the largest earthworks within the world heritage site landscape and forever rending the Stonehenge Avenue in two. The effect of this scheme of half measures would have lasted at least until the world's oil runs out. Discoveries during the Stonehenge Riverside Project's excavations have also revealed that the rescue strategy in advance of the roadline – the largest dig ever proposed for the WHS – would have been inadequate. There's a chance, though, to make some real improvements by closing the A344/A303 junction and building a decent visitor centre. What a shame that Stonehenge will continue to be roped off within the new scheme.

Christopher Young

head of world heritage and international policy, English Heritage

The government's decision on the A303 has in one stroke destroyed the best and most practical means by which the agreed vision for the Stonehenge world heritage site could have been achieved. While this is hugely disappointing, we are pleased that the government acknowledges the imperative to improve the setting of Stonehenge.

In a speech to parliament on December 18, Margaret Hodge made it clear that the government is committed to deliver environmental improvements at Stonehenge in keeping with its status as world heritage site, including new visitor facilities, before the start of the Olympic Games in 2012.

She has asked English Heritage to lead a review of the Stonehenge world heritage site management plan, and we will be working with other stakeholders on this as a priority. To avoid any delay we will also start the search for suitable locations for a new visitor centre so that these can be incorporated into the review as appropriate.

The review is necessary to take account of changed circumstances resulting from the government's announcement on the road. It will also provide a framework to guide the development of alternative proposals for the site. We believe that the management plan's overall vision is still valid, and that many objectives need no change. But we will need to review how they can be achieved, and we will focus on the parts of the plan that need to be changed as a result of the Department for Transport's decision.

The Stonehenge WHS management plan committee will meet in mid-January to consider how best to take forward such a revision, and to set out the timetable for its development and public consultation on its outcomes.

Nick Kendall-Carpenter

National Trust

The National Trust welcomes the government's commitment to improving the setting of Stonehenge, taking into account the heritage and environmental needs of one of the world's most important landscapes. The trust has consistently argued that without funding for an appropriate longterm solution, the priority should be on working together to deliver short-term improvements within the Stonehenge landscape. We look forward toworking with the government, Wiltshire county council, English Heritage, the CBA and other partners to achieve this. We would like to see low impact, low expense and reversible improvements undertaken in time for the Olympics. We believe that these improvements should include:
• traffic management for the A303 for at least 5 miles [8km] either side of Stonehenge to slow traffic and reduce the single carriageway's impact
• a "whisper" road surface laid past the stones to reduce noise
• closure of the A344/A303 junction
• existing visitor centre and car park improved and/or moved to rid them of the tag "national disgrace"
• necessary minor improvements at Longbarrow and Countess roundabouts to ensure that local traffic flows aren't adversely affected by the A344 closure.

Timothy Darvill

author Stonehenge: the Biography of a Landscape

Rejecting major improvements to the A303 has all the hallmarks of a government increasingly indifferent to Britain's heritage. Although the price tag was large, it is small change compared to supporting shaky banks, hosting the Olympics, and waging war. Many hoped the Twyford Down debacle would liquidate transferable environmental capital for Stonehenge, but not so. Disunity within the heritage sector over the best solution no doubt swaged any lingering doubts in Whitehall, as too our inability to recount the benefits of a bored tunnel in the language of instrumentalism. Moving forward means careful reframing, finding a champion for the cause, and seeking attainable incremental changes instead of "Big-Bang" solutions.

Jenny Blain & Robert Wallis

authors Sacred Sites: Contested Rites/Rights

Any re-presentation of Stonehenge and its environs involves compromise; there is no ideal solution. The proposed tunnel needed scrapping as being woefully short and (with bypass and flyover) a massive intrusion into a sacred landscape. The proposed visitor centre had advantages – a smaller version might be instead situated at the current site, where archaeology and landscape are already disrupted. Grassing over the A344 would enable direct approach to Stonehenge "in its landscape" along the avenue: access to the stones is key. Stonehenge deserves a much longer bored tunnel or by-pass, but long-term plans must be tied into future transport concerns and based on carbon reduction, not creating another motorway.

Andrew Lawson

author Chalkland: Stonehenge & its Region

I backed the scheme because it offered much-needed improvements to the road, benefits for visitors to Stonehenge, and relief for residents in Winterbourne Stoke. Direct archaeological impact would have been minimal. "Do nothing" is not acceptable, with the A344's removal a long-standing commitment, and improvements to the A303 and a newvisitor centre essential. Demanding a longer tunnel or newroutes is a waste of time: accepting cheaper solutions is the only option. Better traffic management and junctions are the best we can hope for, but we should resist online dualling of the A303. English Heritage should exhaust the possibility of the Countess East site before finding a potentially worse location for the visitor centre. New proposals must be formulated in the light of the inquiries without the delays of a round of new studies, plans or legislation. This is a stark lesson about the cumbersome processes of protection, designation, planning and decision making, and the value placed by government on the nation's cultural heritage. Archaeologists must learn to have a strong united approach.

Mike Heyworth

director Council for British Archaeology

The Council for British Archaeology welcomed the government's announcement that it is committed toworking with stakeholders to explore other options for improvements at Stonehenge. The CBA did not support the proposed "short tunnel" scheme and urged the government to seek a longer term, more sustainable solution. The announcement means there is now real scope to look seriously at alternatives.

We want to support all interested parties to work positively with the National Trust and English Heritage now that a tunnelled solution is not an option, and we need to act decisively to reach agreement on achievable improvements. The priorities must be to improve facilities for people to enjoy this extraordinary prehistoric monument in its landscape, and to achieve small-scale road improvements in the short term (such as traffic calming and the closure of the A344/A303 junction), while a truly environmentally sustainable solution for traffic management is developed for the world heritage site.

The 2012 Olympic Games still present an opportunity to deliver real improvements in the Stonehenge environs and we have the minister's encouragement for this. We continue to work closely to this end with others: the Campaign for Better Transport, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (including its Wiltshire branch), CBA Wessex, ICOMOS–UK, the National Trust, the Prehistoric Society, Rescue and the Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Society. We look forward to sharing our collective views with government departments and other stakeholders, and taking part in shaping a new and positive future for the world heritage site.

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