Letter: Well on the way to privatising the national heritage

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The Independent Online
KEITH LANGFORD of Bath asks (Letters, 2 August) whether the proposal to move the road past Stonehenge farther away from the monument is 'the first step towards privatising the national heritage'. It may be one step, but I doubt if it is the first.

The plan to transfer the greater part of the Royal Armouries from the Tower of London, where they have been for some 900 years, to form part of a theme park in Leeds has been in the pipeline for some time. The plan depends entirely on substantial private funding, but there are no indications that the Government would provide financial safeguards. The scheme has every appearance of a commercial speculation which, even in happier economic times, might be regarded as potentially disastrous.

One object is to release space for expansion of the Jewel House in the Tower; but a revealing sentence in an Armouries briefing paper suggests that it is not the main one: 'The movement of a major part of the collection to the new museum would release at least 26,000sq ft, of which 17,000sq ft . . . is prime visitors' space, suitable for catering and retail use.'

The Government seems to be more concerned to exploit the strictly commercial potential of the space in the Tower than with the display of its historic contents there. That it is encouraging commercial speculation with so important a part of the national heritage would seem to provide a disturbing answer to Mr Langford's questions.

Claude Blair

Ashted, Surrey