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14 June 2006
Road plans put Stonehenge status at risk

Stonehenge risks being stripped of its status as a world heritage site because of 'second-rate' government proposals to ease traffic congestion at the monument, the National Trust said. Sarah Staniforth, historic properties director with the trust, said the national committee of Unesco, which administers world heritage sites, had reviewed the situation and Stonehenge could be taken off the list because of poor traffic management. The trust's warning comes as ministers prepare to decide what to do to ease congestion on the A303, which passes the ancient stones. Options being considered include a 1.3 mile (2.1km) tunnel or diverting the road to the north or south on the fringes of the 2,200 hectare site. The trust, which owns much of the land around Stonehenge, does not support any of the plans.
     For over seventy years, the Trust has been acquiring parts of the ancient ceremonial landscape integral to Stonehenge for the specific purpose of reuniting the Stones with this landscape and restoring its integrity. Sir William Proby, chair of the trust, said in an open letter to Stephen Ladyman, the transport minister: "If the government is unable to commit to implementing an acceptable long-term solution for Stonehenge then it would be better to make no long-term commitment. We should not tie the hands of future generations." He said the threat to Stonehenge was "urgent, serious and imminent". The issue was not the preservation of the stones but protection and restoration of the surrounding site, believed to hold undiscovered archaeological treasures. "We cannot stand by and allow a second-rate solution to damage for ever one of the world's most important landscapes."
     Fiona Reynolds, director general of the trust, said a temporary solution, upgrading the roads on either side of the site but leaving the A303 as the main route, would make it financially and politically difficult to build an adequate tunnel. "That would just point two barrels of a gun across the world heritage site." The trust's world heritage management plan requires traffic passing the site to be reduced.
     Tom Hassall, Chairman of ICOMOS-UK World Heritage Committee, and Dr Mike Heyworth, Director of the Council for British Archaeology, strongly supported the National Trust's call for a rethink on the possible future of the A303 at Stonehenge. Mr Hassall said: "Immediate improvements are possible, but the final solution must truly acknowledge this World Heritage site's full cultural and economic value. In seeking solutions for current problems the Government must be genuinely looking forward to the long-term future'. Dr Heyworth said "The Government should focus on the benefits of achievable small-scale improvements that do not compromise future options, while actively seeking a longer-term solution that reflects the immense public value and international importance of Stonehenge and its unique landscape".
     The Department for Transport said it would not decide on its preferred solution until a steering group reported this summer.

Sources: Naional Trust Press Release (13 June 2006), The Guardian (14 June 2006)

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