Stonehenge visitor plan is ditched

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The Independent Online
THE FUTURE of access to Stonehenge is being thrown into doubt following a decision by English Heritage to reconsider the site for a pounds 15m visitors' centre, which had been agreed after seven years of planning.

The decision, to be announced tomorrow, will call into question the management style of English Heritage. Last month the Commons Public Accounts Committee savaged the running of the organisation, citing in particular Stonehenge's lack of visitors' facilities as 'a national disgrace'.

English Heritage defended itself then by pointing to its advanced plans for the visitors' centre at Larkhill, half a mile north of the stones.

But at a press conference tomorrow the chairman, Jocelyn Stevens, will admit that the plans, which English Heritage has stubbornly promoted in the face of concerted protests from local people and archaeologists, will be put aside. Instead, a range of eight possible sites, including Larkhill, will be put up for extensive consultation.

The move has baffled interested parties, especially as four of the sites were studied and ruled out nearly 10 years ago. Half a million pounds has been spent promoting and planning the site, including an architectural competition.

A senior source at the National Trust, which jointly presented the plan for the Larkhill centre, called its abandonment 'a bolt out of the blue'. He added: 'The Trust has much tighter and swifter processes for getting things done. After all the blood, sweat and toil I'm not sure why they've got to look at eight sites.'

Only four months ago, English Heritage said Larkhill - which still remains its first choice - had been chosen 'following extensive and wide-ranging research . . . including an independent environmental assessment in which archaeology and landscape were major themes.'

Since then Mr Stevens, who inherited the Larkhill scheme from his predecessor, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, has ordered a complete re-think to take account of local feeling and the wishes of archaeologists and the Defence Ministry, whose land borders Stonehenge.

Robert Key, national heritage junior minister and MP for Salisbury, said: 'English Heritage didn't consult the right people in the first place. Jocelyn Stevens has taken Stonehenge on board as a personal mission but the last seven or eight years has been the wrong approach.'

Salisbury District Council has complained that the original proposals for a mile-long access road to Larkhill would destroy important Neolithic and Bronze Age remains. As a result, the 75,000 copies of the consultation brochure detailing the new options will now include the scale of archaeological disturbance for each site.

English Heritage will also announce that a management board is to be set up to run Stonehenge. It will include National Trust representatives and local councillors.