Putting the magic back into stone circle

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Stonehenge may yet become a place where Druids and day-trippers can walk among the prehistoric stones free of charge and away from the noise and fumes of heavy traffic. Barely a week after English Heritage saw its pounds 44m plan crumble with rejection of a lottery bid, a more politically-acceptable plan is rising from the ashes.

With impeccable timing, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of the heritage quango, disclosed his latest initiative as the Wiltshire police threw their ritual exclusion zone round the stones for the midsummer Solstice tonight.

Though the 5,000-year-old stones are venerated by the Druids, they are barred from the inner circle at the most sacred time of the solar year - an act once described by the Arch-Druid of Glastonbury as "like closing Westminster Abbey at Christmas".

The crucial difference between the plan Sir Jocelyn will put to Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for national Heritage, next Thursday and earlier schemes is the absence of a private sector partner.

The Millennium Commission, which rejected a bid for pounds 22m, was reluctant to put money into a plan which included a private company - the Tussauds Group - wanting to make a profit. Tussauds had intended investing pounds 10m and charging pounds 6.70 for entry to a high-tech interpretation centre.

Free access to the 5,000 year old stone circle will remain the bait for political approval. The current admission charge is pounds 3.70.

The A344 immediately adjacent to the stones would be grassed over but the problem of the busy A303 trunk road will remain.

English Heritage would like the Department of Transport to put the A303 in a tunnel costing pounds 80m. This would be outside the scheme to be put to Mr Smith and with a clamp on public spending it may be something of a pipe dream.