Smith seeks end to wrangling over Stonehenge facelift

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The Independent Online
The Government wants to forge ahead with a facelift for Stonehenge - the huge Druid monument on Salisbury Plain - the Culture Secretary Chris Smith disclosed yesterday.

Red tape and rows over the location of a visitor centre have dogged past efforts to re-vamp the 5,000-year-old sacred site. The public has been barred from touching the stones for more than 20 years, and there was a series of violent clashes in the late 1980s with travellers who wanted to celebrate the summer solstice at the site.

The growing volume of heavy lorries on the nearby A303 road was thought to be making the ancient monument unstable.

Mr Smith wants to cut through the wrangling and press ahead with a solution to the Stonehenge problem in time for the Millennium.

"I hope we can see Stonehenge restored to a landscape without the 20th- century clutter that surrounds it at the moment," he told English Heritage yesterday at a meeting on the presentation of its annual report.

Mr Smith has sorted out security objections with the Ministry of Defence over nearby Larkhill military base. Last Monday he and Sir Jocelyn Stevens, the chairman of English Heritage, took a new plan to the local residents, to canvass their views for a range of options to make the site more attractive to visitors.

One idea is to built a new visitors' centre with a cafe and lavatories in a slight hollow, where it would not obstruct the view of the stones or be seen from the monument.

A Department of Culture spokesman told said: "Things are looking more hopeful now, but nothing will be imposed on the local people.

``The Secretary of State wants to broker a solution to the Stonehenge problem. This is one of England's most important historical sites and is listed as a World Heritage Site, so everything would have to be approved by a range of bodies."