|30 August 2003
Stonehenge protests – deadline looms
A number of organisations are marshalling support and preparing objections to the Government’s road development plans for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site before the imminent deadline of September 4th. If sufficient objections are lodged before the deadline it will force a public enquiry next year. The key points of the Highways Agency proposals are the closure of the A344, which runs alongside the stones; the dualling of the neighbouring A303; and the construction of a 2.1 km tunnel to carry the section of the road that runs closest to the site. Plans also include the construction of a £183 million visitor centre.
Many of the dissenting voices are concerned that the plans ignore the hugely important surrounding area, which is littered with prehistoric sites. Chris Woodford of Save Stonehenge says: “What they will be doing is improving part of the landscape in the immediate vicinity of the stones themselves, but at the expense of the wider heritage site.”
The Council for British Archaeology will be launching an objection in the next few days. CBA have welcomed an extension to the tunnel originally planned, but are worried about the damage that will be caused to either side of it and think that the plans fall short of the improvements the site deserves. George Lambrick, CBA Director, has pointed out that the proposals are not in line with the World Heritage Site Management Scheme, which requires the entire site to be free of roads. Longer tunnel options, rejected on grounds of cost, should be looked into further. The National Trust, owner of the site, supports this position and has launched its own objection.
However, Dr. Francis Pryor MBE, President of the CBA and an acknowledged expert on prehistoric Britain, has argued for a more balanced approach to the plans. Dr. Pryor feels that something is better than nothing. “The worst outcome would be for the archaeological world to disagree so strongly that the current scheme came to nothing and that we were left with the existing national disgrace.”
The AA Motoring Trust also supports the scheme on the grounds that the existing road is badly designed, resulting in a high accident rate. “Boring the A303 is probably a good thing, because it means that you can give the landscape back.”
As the deadline for objections approaches, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has declined to add anything to the comments made at the launch of the scheme by the then Arts Minister Baroness Tessa Blackstone: “It will ensure Stonehenge is reunited with its surrounding monuments in their natural downland landscape setting, protecting the site from heavy traffic, and make possible the construction of a world class visitor centre.”
Source: Article by David Pudames for 24 Hour Museum (29 August 2003)
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