Salon Archive

Issue: Stonehenge

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Stonehenge: a time for decisions

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Earlier this year the Highways Agency published five options for mitigating the impact of roads on the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape (see the Highways Agency's website for further details).
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Responses have been invited to the five options and, as this is clearly a matter of great interest to the Society of Antiquaries and to its Fellows, a seminar was convened on 31 March 2006 at which the five options were considered, with particular regard to their impact on the archaeology and bio-diversity of the Stonehenge landscape, and on the quality of life for people living in the area, for people travelling through it and for people coming from all over the world to visit Stonehenge.
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Following that meeting, the Society's Council considered the issues and prepared a draft statement (published below), which supports the Published Scheme (also known as the short-bored tunnel option) as being the best of the five proposed options (and of any other possible routes).
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Comments are now invited from Fellows on the draft, which Council hopes will receive a mandate from the Fellowship. Comments should be sent to the Society by email by the close of Tuesday 18 April 2006, so that Council can consider them in time for the consultation deadline of 24 April 2006.
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Highways Agency A303 Stonehenge Improvement Scheme Review: response by Council of the Society of Antiquaries of London

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DRAFT
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Founded in 1707, the Society of Antiquaries is charged by its Royal Charter of 1751 with the ‘encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries’. Its membership comprises an elected college of around 2,300 Fellows from the fields of archaeology, art and architectural history, material culture studies, museology, archival research and cultural heritage management. Fellows serve in senior positions in universities, museums, libraries, archives, professional bodies, local authorities and national heritage agencies, as well as in private practice. The Society is a registered charity and leading non-Government organisation working in the cultural heritage sector. The Society is an active member of the Archaeology Forum and Heritage Link, umbrella bodies of national NGOs concerned with the investigation, management and preservation of the historic environment. It also advises the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group (APPAG).
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One of the Society’s strategic aims is to influence policy making in the national and international heritage. Its independence of government and of any vested interests makes it uniquely placed to encourage and facilitate public debate on the management, conservation, presentation and public understanding of the heritage. Fellows are elected by their peers and also nominated to serve on the Council of the Society as individuals in recognition of their own achievements and not as representatives of any particular institution. When discussing important policy issues, Council members declare any conflicts of interest and these are minuted. The depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise among the Society’s 2,300-strong Fellowship gives the Council of the Society the authority to speak on key points of policy and delivery.
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The Council of the Society of Antiquaries of London welcomes this opportunity to participate in the public consultation concerning the A303 Stonehenge road improvement. The Society sponsored the excavations in the 1920s by Colonel Hawley which have given us most of our information about the monument; the Society also set up a special Stonehenge Committee during that decade which oversaw the conservation of the monument, thus ensuring that the stones stand today. In addition, our collections contain important and unique archive material on Stonehenge.
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For the purposes of this statement the Society has consulted widely both among its Fellowship and among the wider historic environment community. It hosted the only major sectoral seminar on the options review at its premises at Burlington House on 31 March 2006, when those organisations with an interest in Stonehenge were invited to express their views. Over ninety individuals attended the meeting. This response has been informed by the opinions voiced at that meeting and by subsequent consultations, especially as far as possible with Fellows. Council has made best endeavours to gain a mandate to speak on behalf of the Fellowship on this issue.
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In recognition of the Vision for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site as set out in the Management Plan, the Society urges the Government to fulfil its treaty commitment to the World Heritage Convention to “identify heritage of outstanding universal value and to protect, conserve, present and transmit it to future generations”. With these objectives in mind, the Council of the Society appeals to the Government to end the current inertia surrounding the future of Stonehenge and its immediate environment. In recognition of the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee's endorsement of the proposal when published in 2003, Council has agreed to lend its support to the Published Scheme as the best option for protecting and enhancing the unique environment of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, one that will best enable present and future generations fully to enjoy and appreciate the site as a whole. In coming to this view, Council acknowledges that the on-line bored tunnel option best achieves the recommendations of the current WHS Management Plan for Stonehenge to “balance the primary aim of protecting the archaeological landscape with other interests such as access, farming, local interests and nature conservation”.
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The Published Scheme for a 2.1km bored on-line tunnel, which will remove the sight and sound of traffic from the Stonehenge bowl and restore the monument to its landscape, has many advantages for the better management of Stonehenge and its associated monuments within the WHS, benefits that are not shared by any of the alternative off-line options. In supporting the proposed scheme, the Society urges that great care be taken in the siting and the modelling of the tunnel portals and that the scheme benefit from full archaeological mitigation during the course of preparation works and construction.
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In its deliberations, Council of the Society has made the following observations in support of its decision to back the Published Scheme in preference to the other options proposed and any other possible off-line options outside the current review:
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• The disproportionate added cost of significantly extending the length of the bored tunnel option and the engineering challenges involved within the undulating downland landform of the WHS.
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• Recognition that over fifty alternative routes have been considered in detail for the A303, but all have been demonstrated by independent public inquiry to have significant negative impacts on local natural environment, other ancient monuments and listed buildings and on local communities.
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• The inferiority of the surface routes and their negative impacts on the archaeology and natural environment of the WHS. These three alternatives would not realise the objectives of the WHS Management Plan.
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• The surface routes are a false economy. Recent major surface road projects, such as the M3 through Twyford Down, have been criticised for putting financial considerations above environmental ones.
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• The cheaper cut and cover tunnel would have a far more profound impact on the archaeology and natural environment of the WHS than the Published Scheme. The tunnel would result in a permanent artificial alteration to the Stonehenge landform. The bored tunnel is more than justified by this environmental gain. In addition, traffic will have to be re-routed during construction of the cut and cover tunnel, causing serious congestion and environmental damage on the edge of the WHS.
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• Council recognises the potential synergies that can be created by an on-line tunnel and the siting of a new visitor centre at Countess Roundabout. Such a combination will both provide a significantly enhanced visitor experience and learning opportunity for appreciating Stonehenge in its cultural and natural chalk downland setting and enable the managing agencies to improve and manage public access on to this sensitive landscape more effectively.
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• The proposed alternative schemes and any other options will require years of further consultation, public inquiry and delay, thereby depriving visitors to the WHS of the quality of experience they expect and deserve for many years to come.
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• Not only is the Published Scheme the best alternative for mitigating the current unacceptable traffic impacts but, according to the independent Inspector’s report of 2004, it is the only scheme that can be completed within the decade and thus represents the best chance for completing the road improvement for Stonehenge in time for the Olympics in 2012. Many Fellows hold the view that 2012 presents a unique opportunity to maximise the economic value of this nation’s heritage through improvements to Stonehenge and other key monuments. Arguments for the added economic value to the south west of England and to local communities arising through immediate action on the road scheme at Stonehenge are overwhelming.
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The Council of the Society of Antiquaries of London calls on the Government, in the light of this public review, to approve the Published Scheme without further delay so that the dignity and quality of visitor experience at this country’s greatest prehistoric monument can be restored within a reasonable timescale.
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