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Archaeology Matters

The Stonehenge Saga 2000-2010

‘Stonehenge is one of the most impressive prehistoric megalithic monuments in the world on account of the sheer size of its megaliths, the sophistication of its concentric plan and architectural design, the shaping of the stones, and the precision and effort with which it was built.’

(Stonehenge WHS Management Plan 2008)

Stonehenge is owned by the government and managed by English Heritage. Much of the landscape around it is owned by the National Trust.


January: The CBA responds to Wiltshire County Council’s consultation on the proposed Traffic Regulation Order to close the A344 to motorised traffic in the vicinity of Stonehenge.


November: The CBA comments on the planning application for a new visitor centre and related works in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.

October: Ben Bradshaw, Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, announced the Government’s investment of £10 million in the visitor centre development. The planning application is open for consultation until 12 November.

English Heritage has unveiled its design for the proposed visitor centre for Stonehenge, submitting a planning application to Wiltshire Council along with an application to close the A344 that runs adjacent to the Stones.

The key elements of the scheme include:

  • a new environmentally sensitive visitor centre at Airman’s Corner with an enhanced exhibition and education facilities
  • a low key visitor transit system
  • removal of the current car park and facilities at the Stones
  • closure of the A344, upgrade of the Airman’s Corner road junction and Longbarrows Crossroads

English Heritage stated: ‘Our vision for Stonehenge has always been a simple one: to restore a sense of dignity and wonder to its setting and provide visitors with a really high quality of experience’.

May: DCMS has announced its decision to develop new visitor facilities at Airman’s Corner; 2.5km (1.5 miles) west of the current visitor centre at the edge of the World Heritage Site, and with good access to the Stones. These new facilities, along with the proposed closure of the A344, will greatly improve the monument’s setting and its presentation to visitors.

CBA Director Dr Mike Heyworth MBE said of the decision:
‘‘The CBA welcomes this decision as part of a sustainable 21st-century solution to the dual challenges of improving visitor access and conservation for this outstandingly important World Heritage Site. We applaud the Government’s support, and the commitment of the project’s partners, in taking the first step towards creating the public facilities and environmental improvement that Stonehenge’s world-class archaeological landscape deserves. The scheme will include an efficient, all-weather visitor transit system, offering visitors the convenience of being dropped off near the monument. It is envisaged the new site will enable increased educational and interpretation facilities."

January: CBA writes to the Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism, Barbara Follett MP, about the options for the new visitor centre at Stonehenge.


October: CBA responds to the ‘Future of Stonehenge’ consultation on options for Environmental Improvements and the Management Plan Review for the World Heritage Site.

July: English Heritage announces a public consultation on ‘The Future of Stonehenge’, seeking views on the review of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site Management Plan and English Heritage’s short-listed options for new visitor facilities. The background and options are discussed in British Archaeology (issue 102).


December: In a Westminster Hall debate on Stonehenge, the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism, stated that the goal now ‘is to deliver environmental improvements to Stonehenge, including new visitor facilities, in keeping with its status as a world heritage site by the beginning of 2012.’

The CBA welcomes today’s announcement by the Government that plans for 2.1km tunnel through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site have been withdrawn. The details announced by Tom Harris, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, are available online.

The CBA has consistently opposed the proposed ‘short tunnel’ scheme for tunnelling and cutting through the Stonehenge World Heritage Site landscape. We urged the Government to use the review of options for road improvements at Stonehenge to seek a longer term, more sustainable solution. Today’s announcement means there is now real scope to look seriously at alternatives.

CBA Director Dr Mike Heyworth said,
‘We want to support all interested parties to work positively now with the National Trust and English Heritage in the knowledge that a tunnelled solution is not an option. We need to act decisively to reach agreement on achievable improvements. The priorities must be to improve facilities for people to enjoy this extraordinary prehistoric monument in its landscape, and to achieve some small-scale road improvements in the short term (such as the closure of the junction of the A344 / A303) while a truly environmentally sustainable solution for traffic management is developed for the World Heritage Site.’

March: The Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly, announces the Government’s decision to grant planning permission for English Heritage’s new Visitor Centre at Stonehenge, subject to the published scheme for the A303 going ahead.


December: Public inquiry opens on 5 December in Salisbury into English Heritage’s application for a new Visitor Centre at Stonehenge.

August: The Secretary of State decides to call in the planning application for the Stonehenge Visitor Centre for her own determination following a public inquiry, because ‘the proposals raise issues of more than local importance having regard to their relationship both to the Stonehenge World Heritage site and to the Government’s proposals for upgrading the A303’.

July: Salisbury District Council approves English Heritage’s resubmitted plans to develop a new Visitor Centre for Stonehenge, with conditions that the development cannot commence until the Government has approved the published A303 roads scheme and until full details of the design and specification of the land train are submitted and approved by the council.

June: The National Trust sounds alarm over the future of the World Heritage Site.

April: The CBA makes its response to the Highways Agency consultation.

March: Independent conservation organisations, including the CBA, National Trust, ICOMOS-UK, The Prehistoric Society, Rescue and the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, issue a joint press release with a collective response expressing their common view on the consultation options.

English Heritage re-submits its planning application for a new Visitor Centre at Stonehenge.

January: The Highways Agency announces a public consultation on five alternative options for the A303 Stonehenge Road Improvement Scheme. The CBA and other bodies issue a press statement expressing their disappointment with the limited scope of the options and failure to engage the National Trust in the review process.


August: ICOMOS-UK, the CBA, the National Trust and others issue press statements and write to Ministers urging that the opportunity be taken to set the terms of reference of the review as widely as possible and to include key stakeholders in the process.

July: The Minister for Transport announces the outcome of the A303 Stonehenge Improvement Public Inquiry. The Inspector’s report is satisfied with the Published Scheme for a short (2.1km) bored tunnel, opposed by the CBA and others at the public inquiry.
At the same time, because of the increase in the estimated costs of the tunnel scheme, the Minister announces a review of the options for road improvements to re-examine whether the scheme still represented value for money and the best option for delivering improvements.

  1. Salisbury District Council refuses planning permission for the Stonehenge Visitor Centre because: The proposal relies on the provision of a passenger transit system which the applicants failed to demonstrate does not have an impact on the World Heritage Site and the amenities of local residents 
  2. The proposal relies fundamentally upon the provision of a new flyover at Countess Roundabout which the applicant was not considered to have demonstrated can be delivered within a reasonable timescale.


August: English Heritage submits to Salisbury District Council its planning application to build a new Visitor Centre Transit System and associated works.

May: The roads inquiry ends. The CBA submits a closing statement summarising its case.

February: Public inquiry into the proposal to improve the A303 at Stonehenge. The inquiry will open on Tuesday 17 February 2004 at the Guildhall, Market Place, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 1JH, and will continue, from 18 February, at the main inquiry venue - Cross Keys House, Salisbury. The CBA submits its evidence. Daily transcripts of the inquiry are available.

Other organisations making their positions known are:
English Heritage
National Trust
Campaign to Protect Rural England
Green Party 
Save Stonehenge 
Newspaper reports linked to the inquiry are published in The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, and BBC News website.


September: Council for British Archaeology Lodges Formal Objection to A303 Trunk Road (Stonehenge Improvement) Draft Orders. A statement of the CBA’s case is circulated to all CBA members for comment.

July: National Trust leads Stonehenge arable reversion project (National Trust Press Release, 15th July 2003)

June: The Highways Agency publishes draft orders and environmental statement on the proposed A303 Stonehenge Improvement Scheme on 5th June 2003. The publication of the documents opens 12 weeks of consultation during which comments can be submitted.

The National Trust welcomes the government’s decision to fund the construction of a bored tunnel to place the A303 underground but notes that the Trust remains “…unconvinced that the Government’s plan for a 2.1 kilometre tunnel will adequately safeguard the integrity of the site. This is a special site, not least for the unique sense of place which it inspires. We believe there are strong archaeological and curatorial reasons for building as long a tunnel as can be achieved, to preserve and enhance both the tangible and intangible qualities of the site”.


December: The Department of Transport announces plans for a 2.1km bored tunnel for the A303, supported by a comparison of the options from the Highways Agency, and statements from the Department of Culture, Media & Sport and English Heritage.

The CBA was more cautious, saying:
‘This is significantly better than the Government’s original plan of an even shorter cut-and-cover tunnel. We are pleased to see the commitment to the tunnel: while much of the rest of the Government road programme will just generate more traffic, this scheme really does deliver environmental improvements. But it isn’t really visionary. Half the World Heritage Site will still be subject to increased intrusion from the new road scheme, and on present plans most people will be accessing Stonehenge from right next to the tunnel portal.

‘The benefits of a tunnel removing roads from Stonehenge and its surroundings are not just for our generation or the next, but for countless more to come. At Stonehenge of all places - one of immense antiquity and Britain’s premier international attraction - such decisions require a long-term vision of centuries or even millennia, not just decades. The Government was prepared to spend far more on the one year wonder of the Millennium Dome. Welcome though the decision is in many ways, it betrays the lack of real vision that bedevils the political process in trying to deliver serious long-term environmental and cultural benefits.’

The National Trust ‘welcomes the Government’s announcement that it intends to construct a bored tunnel for the A303 adjacent to Stonehenge, and that it has abandoned the inappropriate ‘cut and cover’ method of construction, which has been universally condemned as too damaging for this precious landscape. The Council of the National Trust has previously agreed that it will press for the longest achievable tunnel past Stonehenge. It will be considering all the available evidence to assess why the Government believes that a 2.1km tunnel meets that description.’

November: The CBA releases a provisional position statement on the Stonehenge A303 tunnel options

February: The CBA hosts a meeting about the roads proposals for Stonehenge and their integration with other changes to the World Heritage Site. Please note: This page is archived and no longer updated.


October: An alliance of leading environment, transport and archaeology organisations is formed to warn that the Stonehenge World Heritage Site would be irreversibly damaged by a planned road scheme to dual the A303 close to the Stones as part of a so-called ‘Master Plan’ for the Site.

August: The appointment is announced of a world-class team who will support the project architects Denton Corker Marshall.

July: ICOMOS raises concerns about the Stonehenge proposals, including:

  1. That the options for routing the A303 at Stonehenge be assessed on equal terms. (On present information, such options would appear to be the 4 km bored tunnel, a 2 km bored tunnel, and the 2 km cut and cover tunnel) 
  2. That due regard is paid to the importance of the World Heritage Site as a whole, and not simply to that part closest to the stones 
  3. That there should be real “joined up thinking” on the part of central government, with a particular focus upon the responsibility of the State Party to respect its duty under the World Heritage Convention to ensure the protection, conservation, and presentation of the Site, to the utmost of its resources 
  4. That the current position regarding the “Master Plan” should be clarified (eg the situation on the original position for the drop-off point at Fargo), and the whole subsumed in a normal unified Management Plan process as soon as possible

April: Denton Corker Marshall, a highly respected international architectural practice, are selected by English Heritage to design the new Stonehenge visitor centre at Countess East, Amesbury.

February: Sir Neil Cossons, Chairman of English Heritage, announces the shortlist from which an architect will be chosen to design the new Stonehenge visitor at Countess East, Amesbury.

January: English Heritage refute press suggestions that Stonehenge is a twentieth century ‘fake’.


December: English Heritage complete the purchase of Countess East, Amesbury as the site for the new Stonehenge visitor centre.

July: Sir Neil Cossons announces that English Heritage is to acquire Countess East, the site for the new Stonehenge visitor centre, before the option to purchase the land expires in December 2000. The Department for Culture, Media & Sport has agreed in principle to fund this.

June: Transport Minister Lord Whitty unveils plans for a new road which will help to restore the historical landscape surrounding Stonehenge. Preferred route status has been granted to the scheme, which will protect the route from development while more detailed plans are prepared.

Chris Smith launches World Heritage Site Management Plan

March: The Highways Agency announce that new design commission for the development of the A303 Stonehenge scheme, including the Winterbourne Stoke Bypass, has been awarded to Mott MacDonald Limited of Winchester.

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