World mysteries

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Radical Stonehenge solution proposed

After over 20 years of argument and countless millions spent on consultants and planning inquiries over the state of Stonehenge, a leading expert last night proposed a radical solution: do nothing. The government's long overdue decision on the roads which strangle the world's most famous prehistoric monument is ardently awaited by archaeologists and local residents alike, after two public inquiries and last summer's lengthy public consultation. Last night Professor Peter Fowler, an internationally acknowledged expert on the Stonehenge landscape and on World Heritage Sites management, washed his hands of the whole argument.The A303, a main artery to the south west that narrows to a grinding two-lane traffic jam where it passes the stone circle, should be closed and replaced with a tunnel, and the smaller A344 which actually clips the heel stone of the monument, should also go, he said, adding, "But since no sort of a tunnel is going to be built, the A303 should be kept exactly as and where it is, because neither widening it nor allowing it to career off sinuously to north or south is an option."

Instead of the expensive and ambitious plans for a new visitor centre, car parks, paths across the downland and a land train for people who can't walk so far, currently being pursued by English Heritage which manages the site, and the National Trust which owns thousands of acres of surrounding land, Prof Fowler advocated low tech interpretation at several perimeter points, encouraging walkers, cyclists and horse riders to explore the whole site and its myriad monuments, not just the stone circle itself. Prof Fowler was giving the keynote address last night at a Council for British Archaeology event celebrating the 20th anniversary of Stonehenge and nearby Avebury becoming a World Heritage Site. Since then argument has never stopped over the site, and its squalid visitor facilities, damned by the parliamentary public accounts committee as "a national disgrace" in 1989. When the most recent public inquiry recommended replacing the road with a long tunnel, the government rejected this on cost grounds and instead called for renewed consultation on all the options.



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