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Archaeology Matters

The Stonehenge Saga 1960-1999

October 1999

Following the concerns expressed in the Draft Stonehenge World Heritage Site Management Plan, published on 6 September, about the level of traffic within the World Heritage Site and the suggestion that access to King Barrow Ridge would provide an excellent viewpoint of the Stonehenge landscape, English Heritage Chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens has informed the shortlist of selected bidders for the development and operation of the new visitor centre that they should consider King Barrow Ridge as a gateway to the Stonehenge landscape.

September 1999

The draft Stonehenge World Heritage Site Management Plan is issued for consultation.
The National Trust announces that it has bought 172 hectares (425 acres) of land belonging to The Countess Farm Partners at Amesbury in Wiltshire.

June 1999

Plans for a new road which will help to restore the historical landscape surrounding Stonehenge are unveiled by Transport Minister Lord Whitty. See A303 Stonehenge (incorporating the Winterbourne Stoke Bypass) Preferred Route Announcement - Please note: This page is archived and no longer updated 

April 1999

Culture Secretary Chris Smith announces that Sir Jocelyn Stevens has agreed to continue to play a prominent role in assuring the future of Stonehenge, Britain’s foremost prehistoric monument.

The Master Plan for Stonehenge and the opportunity for a commercial operator to develop a new world-class visitor centre are launched.

December 1998

First meeting of Stonehenge Steering Group held. Chaired by Chris Smith its top priority is to create an environment for the monument at Stonehenge worthy of its status as a World Heritage Site.

The great prize of starlit Stonehenge: the new plans for Stonehenge deserve support, writes CBA President Francis Pryor.

September 1998

Culture Secretary Chris Smith spells out his vision for a more dignified future for Stonehenge, with the traffic removed and new visitor facilities located outside the World Heritage Site at Countess East. 

The CBA’s Annual General Meeting endorses a memorandum which identifies principles and criteria to assist the formulation of a strategy worthy of Stonehenge, and furnishes the Council with a view on the Government’s emerging proposals.

July 1998

The long-standing deadlock in efforts to improve the setting and presentation of Stonehenge is broken with the announcement of improvements to the A303 trunk road as part of the Government’s Roads Review. The decision to proceed with the scheme follows a joint DETR/DCMS/English Heritage study and a negotiated agreement between the two Departments. At least a third of the costs will be funded from heritage sources.

The A303 alongside the stones will be upgraded to a dual carriageway and hidden from the monument in a 2 km cut-and-cover tunnel. This will open up the possibility of closure of part of the A344 which intrudes severely on the World Heritage Site. It will also allow for the replacement and relocation of the current visitor facilities.

April 1998

Culture Secretary Chris Smith identifies Fargo North as the location most likely to solve the long standing search for a site for an improved visitor centre at Stonehenge.

October 1997

Culture Secretary Chris Smith pledges to act as a catalyst in finding a solution to the vexed problem of improving the presentation of Stonehenge. The possibility of locating new small-scale visitor facilities at Larkhill is discussed.

The proposal for visitor-facilities at Fargo is linked to suggestions for upgrading the A303 (dual carriageway and 2kn cut-and-cover tunnel) with concomitant improvements to Longbarrow Roundabout and Airman’s Corner – all of which disregard local and county planning policies, as well as almost all of the key (‘action’) resolutions of the November 1995 Highways Agency planning conference.

June 1997

English Heritage place a full page advert in many broadsheet newspapers with the message ‘Before we can take down the fence, we have to dig up the road’. They argue that “Stonehenge is the most important, and most visited monument in Britain. For 5,000 years, it has stood as a timeless memorial to the people who built it. And yet, today, it stands in what is little more than a traffic island. Two main roads converge on the monument, severing it from the awesome landscape it once dominated. The busy A303 trunk road passes within 200 yards of the Stones. The A344 virtually touches the Heel Stone.

Five years ago, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons described the presentation of the site as ‘a national disgrace’. At English Heritage, we couldn’t agree more. Which is why we, in partnership with the National Trust and the Tussauds Group, have submitted a proposal to the Millennium Commission to help us fund the Stonehenge Millennium Park. Our vision is a 6,000-acre prehistoric natural wilderness containing over 450 ancient monuments, as well as Stonehenge itself. To achieve this, we would close the A344 and return it to grassland. The A303 would be sent through an underground tunnel where it passes the site. We would remove the existing (and woefully inadequate) visitors centre and car park and build a new Visitor Complex at least a kilometre away from the Stones.

By making Stonehenge harder to get to, we would make it more accessible. Visitors would be able to roam freely (and free of charge) among the monuments, unfettered by fences. (Those with disabilities or walking difficulties would be provided with suitable transport.) The greatest archaeological landscape in the world would be returned to its original and rightful setting. It is a grand plan, and inevitably, an expensive one. But with the help of the Millennium Commission, our vision can be achieved. After four years of consultation with government officials, archaeologists, environmentalists, landowners, planners and local residents, the time for action is now. For Stonehenge, it’s just another millennium. For millions of visitors, it will be an opportunity that cannot be missed.”

The English Heritage application to the Millennium Commission for funds to develop the Stonehenge Millennium Park via a Private Finance Initiative, together with The National Trust and The Tussauds Group, is turned down.

House of Lords debate on the future of Stonehenge.

March 1997

English Heritage announce that their Commissioners have agreed a light transport link from the proposed new Stonehenge Visitor Complex, outside the World Heritage Site, to within walking distance of the Stones. Two optional routes were discussed and the “out and back” route was preferred to the circular route right around the Stonehenge Bowl because of its minimal impact on archaeology and the landscape. The “out and back” route will run from the new Countess Visitor Complex to King Barrow Ridge, north on the ridge-top track, due west through the wood north of the Cursus to Byway 12 and then south to within 300 metres of the Stones.

The Commissioners agreed that visitors should be able to choose either to walk or ride to the Stones in order that they shall be guaranteed a satisfying visit whatever the weather conditions. Commissioners reaffirmed their determination that all existing 20th century structures on the World Heritage Site shall be removed and not replaced. The light weight transport system will be specially designed and engineered in order to make the best use of the existing public routes.

The Tussauds Group welcomed this decision and The National Trust, who have already accepted the principle of land transport to the Stones, will be considering this proposal.

February 1997

The Millennium Commission announce that the project has made the “long list” of applicants. Their final grant decision is not expected until June/July 1997.

November 1996

English Heritage submits an application to the Millennium Commission for funding for the Stonehenge Millennium Park. The £83 million scheme will clear the accumulated 20th century clutter including the existing visitor centre, car park and the A344 road to create a Park free for ever from any sign of man’s intrusion where the public will be encouraged to roam in safety and to walk among the Stones as their ancestors did for thousands of years. As well as the creation of a great prehistoric Park, a state-of-the-art Visitor Complex will be constructed outside the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Following a Private Finance Initiative competition (PFI), The Tussauds Group Limited were selected by English Heritage and The National Trust as the preferred partner for the scheme.

September 1996

The Department of Transport confirm that northern routes around Stonehenge will not be pursued. They also announce that they consider the green tunnel is “not an affordable solution” and that “the scheme will now be moved to the longer term roads programme.” This appears to leave only the yellow and grey routes on the table.

August 1996

The Guardian reports that the Government are about to reject the Green Tunnel as too expensive and instead re-open discussion on the Grey Route. The CBA expresses astonishment. English Heritage and the National Trust produce a Planning Brief for a visitor centre at Countess which is widely accepted by consultees (including Local Planning Authorities).

June 1996

English Heritage and Intel launch the virtual reality model of Stonehenge on the Internet.

1995

Highways Agency publishes new consultation, reinstating the Yellow and Grey routes as options for discussion, putting forward a new Purple route running to the north of Stonehenge, and dismissing various long tunnels as both ‘unaffordable’ and unfree of ‘other environmental problems’. 

Stonehenge landscape November 1995 Highways Agency host planning conference to discuss the A303 Amesbury - Berwick Down (Stonehenge section). The result is a consensus in favour of the Green Tunnel (a long bored tunnel from east of the Ancient Avenue and King Barrow Ridge to the west of the A360 and Longbarrow Roundabout).

1994

At international conference hosted by English Heritage and the National Trust, DTp minister Steven Norris announces that Grey and Yellow routes are withdrawn. At this conference, English Heritage argues for routing of A303 through a long bored tunnel.

Government publishes guidance on World Heritage Sites in PPG15: Historic Buildings and Conservation Areas

EH/NT visitor centre proposals now focus on Countess Farm, to the north of Amesbury.

At the Conservative Party Conference it is announced that there will be a minister with responsibility for Stonehenge, to coordinate progress. In parallel, it emerges that the Highways Agency, English Heritage and the National Trust are to work jointly to seek a solution acceptable to all.

1993

Department of Transport consults on alternative routes to improve A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down. In the vicinity of Stonehenge, two options are put forward: Grey, swinging to the south, and Yellow, involving on-line upgrading. The CBA argues both options to be unacceptable in the context of a World Heritage Site. DTp subsequently finds results of this consultation ‘inconclusive’

English Heritage and National Trust publish new proposals for conservation and management of Stonehenge and its landscape

July 1993 CBA responds to consultation following debate within Council. Main points are:

  • present situation is unacceptable 
  • proposal to open up surrounding landscape is welcome 
  • proposals for visitor facilities cannot be seen in isolation from wider management issues, especially the upgrading of the A303 
  • it is a matter of continuing concern that there is still no Government guidance on the appropriate treatment in the planning process of archaeological remains in World Heritage Sites 
  • guiding principles for any new development should be: » minimum damage to known or potential archaeological remains
  • minimum impact on previously undeveloped landscape
  • minimum visual intrusion on monuments and landscape
  • maximum reversibility at the end of their use-life

1992

EH and NT submit detailed planning application relating to landscaping works along line of A344 and new approach road for visitor centre to Salisbury District Council.
Both planning applications are subsequently withdrawn ‘so that all available options could be reviewed and further public consultation undertaken’

1991

May: English Heritage and National Trust apply for outline planning permission for a ‘comprehensive scheme’ involving a visitor centre at Larkhill.

December : EH/NT application refused by Salisbury District Council. EH and NT appeal against this decision.

Paying visitors now number 700,000.

1985 to 1990

Stonehenge Study Group publishes report. Consultation with the Department of Transport discloses ‘no current plans to convert this stretch of road [the A303] to a dual carriageway before the end of the century. Our appraisal of the various options has been made on the important assumption that the A303 will remain as a single carriageway for the foreseeable future. We welcome this because we believe that however carefully it was designed, a dual carriageway on the line of the A303 would further interfere with the setting of Stonehenge and would be a major encroachment into archaeologically sensitive ground. Any change in the plans for this road would be a most serious matter and would change the balance of considerations with respect to a number of options for the future’ (Stonehenge Study Group Report, 4.4)

Among the Study Group’s conclusions are: - strong desirability of opening up surrounding landscape, with development of network of footpaths - extension of interpretation facilities - implementation of more sympathetic methods of managing visitors and protecting the monument - need to overcome obstacles presented by A303 and A344 (including closure of A344) - eight possible visitor centres sites (graded ‘near’, ‘middle distance’, and ‘distant’)

Lord Montagu announces a preference for visitor centre site at Larkhill West, about 1km north of Stonehenge

1986: Stonehenge designated a World Heritage Site

Plans for new visitor facilities are worked out; there are negotiations for assembly of necessary land

1984

April: English Heritage established

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu delivers speech noting ‘increasing dissatisfaction with the way in which Stonehenge is presented to visitors’ and announcing action to ‘find and implement a permanent solution’

May: EH convenes meeting in Salisbury to discuss proposal to set up Stonehenge Study Group

June: Stonehenge Study Group holds first meeting. Its terms of reference (here abridged) are to consider possible options for long-term improvement of setting of Stonehenge, the way in which visitors are received and the monument is shown to them, with particular regard to:

  1. Over-riding requirement to protect and preserve monument and archaeology of surrounding area 
  2. Need to present monument within its environment in a way which increases understanding and appreciation of it in its broader context 
  3. Need for adequate visitor facilities 
  4. Wider implications (e.g. economic consequences for locality, relationship between Stonehenge and other sites in area) 
  5. Costs

1983

Visitor figures begin to rise again, reaching 600,000

1982

Visitor figures down to 500,000

1979

DoE Stonehenge Working Party publishes report (accompanied by Minority Report) on future management of Stonehenge. Department of Transport consider scheme to turn A303 into dual carriageway

1978

Department of the Environment restricts public access to Stonehenge, to limit erosion by visitors (then running at 2,000 per hour during the summer season)

1977

Visitor numbers reach 800,000

Early 1960s

Visitor numbers between 300,000 and 400,000 per year

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