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13 January 2008
Storm over house plan for Avebury

Conservationists and locals all agree that that the dilapidated Bonds Garage, and the fleet of second hand vans that surrounds it, are an eyesore that does no credit to the picturesque village of Avebury (Wiltshire, England). But the proposal to knock down the 1930s garage and house and to replace them with five new houses has set the Wiltshire village (population 486) on a collision course with the most influential conservation bodies in the land and even the world. The reason is that Avebury contains one of the largest megalithic monuments in Europe and the garage is sited within 200 yards of the outer rim of the stone circle thought to be 4,500 years old.
     Houses have existed within Avebury's stone circle - far larger than the one at Stonehenge - since the Dark Ages, making it one of Europe's most remarkable prehistoric sites. A number of cottages were knocked down in the 1930s by the Dundee marmalade magnate and archaeologist, Alexander Keiller, who also dug up and re-erected many of the stones. More cottages were removed by the National Trust, current owner of the monument. It was Keiller who paid for Bonds Garage to be removed from the circle of stones in the 1930s and relocated to its present site north of the village, where it is now backed by a mobile home park. It remains, however, within the Avebury World Heritage site and that is what has drawn objections to the proposed new homes from English Heritage, the National Trust, the Avebury Society, the county council's world heritage site officer and Icomos-UK, the body which advises the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on the creation of world heritage sites.
     Kate Fielden of the Wiltshire Archaeological Society, which is also objecting to the proposal, said: "What is there at present is an eyesore but the only way the planning system allows the mistakes of the past to be rectified is when another planning application comes along. What is proposed now is too big and will spoil the approach to Avebury - which can only be spoilt once. Avebury parish council and residents of the mobile home park behind the garage, however, are wholly in favour of the proposed new homes. The parish council voted unanimously in favour of the plan - after two members and the parish clerk, who had an interest in the development because they lived in the mobile home park, had left the room.
     The proposal now goes before Kennet district council with an officer's recommendation for approval. Conservationists warn there is still a possibility of it being "called in" for public inquiry or the council being taken to judicial review for failing to uphold the statutory protection of the world heritage site.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk (7 January 2008)

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