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20 December 2008
New row hits Stonehenge

A last-gasp attempt to build a world-class visitor centre at Stonehenge in time for the 2012 Olympics is in tatters because of a major row between the country's two leading heritage organisations over its location.
     After spending 38 million of public money over almost 20 years on aborted schemes, including most recently one by Denton Corker Marshall, then architecture minister Margaret Hodge promised last December to have a 20 million temporary centre ready for the influx of tourists during the 2012 games. But with little more than six months remaining before a planning application needs to be submitted, the project is in deadlock after the National Trust and English Heritage clashed over which site it should be built on.
     A major announcement was expected from Hodge's successor Barbara Follett last week, but was postponed until January because several stakeholders, including the National Trust objected to the centre being built at the archaeologically significant Fargo Plantation. The Fargo proposal is also controversial because it is in the world heritage site. Objectors want the centre further from the stones.
     Local MP Robert Key, who with EH and the Department for Culture Media & Sport backs the Fargo site, said: "I met Barbara Follett last Wednesday. She had hoped to announce a decision [last week], but the National Trust would not agree to the proposals. The project is in deadlock after English Heritage and the National Trust clashed over which site should be chosen"
     The National Trust, which owns much of the land around Stonehenge, would not comment on its objections to the Fargo site, but the Council for British Archaeology described it as 'the least acceptable' option. Director Mike Heyworth said: "There's a conspiracy to make the National Trust look isolated - It's nonsense. Every archaeology body except EH opposes Fargo."
     Peter Alexander-Fitzgerald, a member of the International Council on Monuments & Sites (Icomos) world heritage committee, said: "Constructing the centre within the world heritage site is contrary to international law. The agreement the government entered into was that it would not encourage development within it." An EH spokeswoman said: "There are differences, but they're not insurmountable. We're aware of the tight deadline, and hope to come to an agreement in the new year." A DCMS spokesman strongly denied that development within the site was contrary to international law, adding that ministers would meet next month to decide on the 'next steps'.

Source: Building Design (19 December 2008)

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