Grant to Stonehenge unlikely to be panacea
Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
Saturday July 27, 2002
A grant for a new visitor centre at Stonehenge, agreed in principle yesterday by the heritage lottery fund, may mark the end of decades of wrangling between heritage and highway authorities over what to do about one of the most famous ancient monuments in the world.
The fund will not disclose exact details until next week, but English Heritage has not got the £26m it was seeking. It has got a "stage one approval", which is enough to proceed with the planning, and implies willingness by the fund to give further grants.
The 5,000-year-old stone circle, with the hundreds of field monuments dotted around it on Salisbury Plain, is a world heritage site, an honour shared with the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids.
However, the monument remains imprisoned within wire fences, and clenched in the fork of two busy roads.
It is 13 years since the parliamentary public accounts committee condemned the present arrangements as "a national disgrace". And it is five years since English Heritage launched yet another artist's impression of happy visitors strolling through lambs and buttercups toward the stones - it was hoping to see the vision realised in time for the millennium. Since then millions in taxpayers' money has been spent on road plans, visitor centre plans, consultation exercises, and more artists' impressions.
Solving the traffic problem, by closing one road and burying the other in a tunnel, is seen as the key to the whole site. However, some archaeologists and many local campaigners are opposed to the "cut and cover" method insisted on for cost reasons by the highways agency. This is a construction system which involves gouging a trench for two miles across the fragile landscape.
Local sources insist this is also up for debate again, and the road may eventually be dug through a bored tunnel, which would be less destructive of surface archaeology.
Despite endless consultations, English Heritage has also failed to win over residents closest to the Countess roundabout, where present facilities are a filling station, motel and coffee shop.
After years of wrangling, this was chosen as the best site for a state of the art visitor centre. But residents remain convinced the visitor centre is the wrong scheme in the wrong place - and nothing English Heritage announces next week is likely to change their minds.
Posted by Rhiannon
31st July 2002ce
Edited 10th February 2006ce