Monday 8 April 2013

Project Stonehenge


 Project Background

Stonehenge is one of the most important and popular ancient monuments in the world, attracting one million-plus visitors every year.

However, its landscape setting is severely compromised by the intrusion of roads and traffic and visitor facilities are outdated and inadequate - wholly inappropriate for a cultural site of such importance and international renown. Worse, the mystery and significance of the monument is difficult to appreciate, with roads and fences cutting off its connection to the surrounding prehistoric landscape and ancient monuments.

The £27million project led by English Heritage aims to rectify this situation and achieve the vision set out in the Stonehenge World Heritage Management Plan, which is to restore the dignity of Stonehenge by removing intrusive clutter and traffic in its vicinity.

The Improvements
A new visitor building
Located at Airman’s Corner some 1.5miles away from the stone circle, out of sight from the monument, the new visitor centre is much more spacious than the existing cluster of old and cramped visitor buildings. It will present great opportunities for making the story of Stonehenge and its prehistoric setting accessible and engaging for everyone, whatever their age and interests.

Apart from a café and shop, it will feature much enhanced education space and galleries with museum-quality exhibits, including an unusual outdoor gallery comprising three Neolithic houses reconstructed from rare evidence found near Stonehenge.

New visitor transit to the stone circle, with walking options
Low-impact vehicles, carrying up to 900 visitors an hour, will operate a 10-minute shuttle service from the visitor building to the stones.  With one stop en-route, visitors can choose to walk all or part of the way to the stones to discover the transformed landscape and the archaeological features linked with Stonehenge.

Landscape improvements
In order to restore the dignity of setting of the stones, and to minimise the intrusion of the modern world the following improvements will be made:
  • closure of the A344 – a road which currently runs right past the monument, almost touching the Heel Stone and severing the Avenue, Stonehenge’s ancient processional approach
  • removal of the existing car/coach park and visitor facilities, also adjacent to the stone circle
  • removal of ugly fencing
  • reinstatement of the grassy landscape surrounding the stones
The project will be completed in two phases. The new visitor centre is scheduled to open in late 2013. Once that is open, we will dismantle the existing facilities and restore the landscape around the stone circle to grass. The project will be completed in summer 2014.

Throughout the construction Stonehenge will welcome visitors as normal.

Construction work on the visitor centre started at Airman’s Corner in July 2012. The Highways Agency has also started works to improve the Longbarrow roundabout at the junction of the A360 and A303. These improvements will accommodate changes in traffic flows following the planned closure of the A344 in June 2013.

 Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is the new visitor centre and car park visible from Stonehenge?
No, you cannot see them at all due to the topography and that is one of the reasons why Airman’s Corner was chosen.

2. Why do you need to relocate the visitor centre so far away from the stones?
The relocation of visitor facilities to Airman’s Corner, 1.5 miles away, is necessary if we are to improve the setting of the stones. We believe the distance is reasonable in light of the considerable environmental benefits it will bring.

3. Why do you need to close the A344?
The closure of the A344 is essential for the long-term management of the World Heritage Site and for the implementation of the Project. The National Trust and the RSPB are among the organisations which support this closure.

It will drastically reduce motorised traffic within the World Heritage Site, especially those running close to the monument. The setting of Stonehenge and other monuments will be greatly improved. Importantly, the monument will be reunited with The Avenue - its ancient processional approach. The original commitment to remove the A344 made by the UK Government to UNESCO when Stonehenge was inscribed as a World Heritage Site will be fulfilled.

4. How is the project funded?
Apart from the £2.6m of DCMS grant-in-aid that was spent before Government funding was withdrawn in June 2010, the £27m project is funded by a combination of grants (including £10m from the Heritage Lottery Fund), gifts from charitable trusts and individuals, and English Heritage profits from its commercial activities at Stonehenge.

Key Facts
  • In 1883 Stonehenge was formally recognised as a monument of national importance, protected by the newly introduced Ancient Monuments Act.
  • In 1915, it was then sold at auction and bought for £6,600 by a local gentleman named Cecil Chubb.
  • Three years later Mr Chubb presented it to the nation and English Heritage took on guardianship of the site in 1984 when it was established.
  • In 1986 Stonehenge, along with Avebury Henge and Stone Circles, was inscribed on the prestigious World Heritage list.
  • The A344 first came into existence as a road in the 1760s.
  • It was taken over by the Amesbury Turnpike Trust in the early 19th century and became a toll road.
  • Where once visitors approached Stonehenge from the south and west over unmapped and unfenced sheep pastures, by the mid-19th century most people arrived by this road from the east.
  • Increasingly within easy reach of the car owning public, by the second half of the twentieth century almost all visitors arrived by road from the east and today more than 6,000 motorised vehicles use it every day.
  • The UK Government made a commitment to the World Heritage Committee in 1986 to remove the A344 where it crosses the Avenue, when Stonehenge was inscribed on the World Heritage List

Existing Car Park and Facilities
  • By the end of the 19th century, visitors were complaining of the number of wagons, horses and unruly crowds. Consequently, attempts were made to cope with the ever-rising visitor numbers.
  • In 1935 a free car park was installed and in 1968 the current facilities including the pedestrian underpass were opened, as visitor numbers reached 800,000 by 1977. These were later extended in the 1980s to accommodate increasing needs.