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5 July 2008
Stonehenge: 37m later and back to square one

A major public consultation is set to take place in a new bid to upgrade disgraceful visitor facilities, appalling traffic conditions and the poor environment at Stonehenge after the dramatic collapse of the tunnel and visitor centre schemes. The initiative by heritage chiefs will focus on road improvements to the increasingly congested A303 and where to build an interim visitor centre. Thousands of responses from organisations ranging from heritage and archaeological bodies to residents' groups are expected after the exercise is launched next month.
     The back-to-square- one move follows the waste of 37.85 million of taxpayers' money on failed attempts to solve traffic and heritage problems at Stonehenge. After eight years of planning and controversy, the Stonehenge A303 Improvement Scheme was axed late last year.
     Earlier this year Culture Minister Margaret Hodge pledged to do everything possible to upgrade clogged roads and disgraceful visitor conditions at Stonehenge before the 2012 Olympic Games. She has now asked English Heritage to take a lead on reviewing the World Heritage Site (WHS) management plan and also to form an Environmental Improvements Project.
     English Heritage will work with partners to "look into what improvements can be made in terms of visitor facilities, roads and traffic management" in the wake of the A303 debacle. It proposes to launch a three-month consultation for a revised Stonehenge WHS management plan at Amesbury on July 15. This will be run jointly with the proposals for the Stonehenge Environmental Improvements Project. The latter will specifically seek to close the A344, which runs within a few feet of the Heel Stone and a stone's throw from the circle. And it will examine options for the location of a new visitor centre and car park to replace the existing one, which was famously branded by MPs "a national disgrace".
     Leaflets and questionnaires will be distributed to thousands of houses and other interested parties, and will also be available on the internet, while presentations will be made to various groups. Salisbury MP Robert Key, a former Heritage and Roads minister, is keen for action as soon as possible following what he described as the farcical scrapping of the A303 scheme. He said the "dangerous and ugly" A344 should be closed and called for a semi-permanent, though high-quality, visitor centre to be built before a more permanent solution was found.

Sources: Estern Daily Press (28 June 2008), Leisure Opportunity News (3 July 2008)

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