On 9 November, the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) hosted a debate at its AGM to inform its members about issues concerning the future of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS). Following the debate, distinguished archaeologist Prof. Mike Parker Pearson gave the annual Beatrice de Cardi Lecture, on his work at Stonehenge.
National Trust, Historic England and English Heritage spoke to their organisations’ support for a 2.9km tunnel and major road engineering. By contrast, ICOMOS-UK took a holistic approach to the WHS’s cultural landscape and its setting, taking into account possible boundary changes. The Stonehenge Alliance pointed out that the priority should be protection of the heritage, rather than meeting the needs of traffic and economic development. We referred to the obligation under the World Heritage Convention to protect the whole Site, indicating there should be no further damage. (We will expand on our presentation later.)
The short tunnel supporters drew attention to Highways England’s justification for road widening based on the Department for Transport’s dubious traffic projections. Local concerns about traffic were also flagged up as reason for road widening. We agreed that congestion and rat running needed to be addressed but these issues were insufficient to justify damage to the WHS. In discussion George Lambrick, former CBA Director, suggested that the Highways Agency should be looking again at potential routes either side of the WHS.
Historic England and National Trust claimed that Highways England is seeking an ‘exemplar scheme’ at Stonehenge with their assistance. A damaging short tunnel, in our view, with new road construction within the WHS, could hardly provide an exemplar. The suggestion that if we do not accept the offer of a 2.9km tunnel, we might end up with a surface dual carriageway through the World Heritage Site is not plausible. As we have stated previously this is not an option politically, unless the Government is prepared for an international outcry and, almost certainly, the loss of World Heritage status. Overall, no convincing case was presented as to why we should accept (and be grateful for) a 2.9km tunnel.
Commendable aspirations for the future of Stonehenge were made by other contributors, such as a return of tranquillity to the WHS and conservation of the landscape and its archaeology that people have worked hard to protect over the last century.
Prof. Parker Pearson in his lecture said that we now have an opportunity to reunite Stonehenge with its wider landscape when looking for a 21st century solution to 20th century problems. In particular, he mentioned restoring the link between Stonehenge and Bluestonehenge via the prehistoric Avenue currently severed by the A303.
However, this vision would be impossible with the ‘offline’ 2.9km tunnel proposal which would result in a new cutting through the Avenue to portals not far away; while on the western side of the WHS, the tunnel would emerge with dual carriageways cutting through an area where there are barrow cemeteries as well as evidence of prehistoric fields. Without a much longer tunnel it will be difficult to fulfil the shared aspiration for a reunited WHS while protecting it from further harm.