Stonehenge gets £27m facelift to end ‘national embarrassment’

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Work is beginning to transform the area around Stonehenge from a “national embarrassment” into a tranquil setting for one of the world’s great prehistoric monuments.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Stonehenge gets £27m facelift to end ‘national embarrassment'” was written by Steven Morris, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th July 2012 11.00 UTC

Work is beginning to transform the area around Stonehenge from a “national embarrassment” into a tranquil setting for one of the world’s great prehistoric monuments.


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English Heritage said that the £27m project to build a new visitor centre out of sight of the stone circle to replace the shabby collection of buildings beside the monument and to close a nearby A road was under way.

Contractor VINCI Construction UK has taken possession of the site at Airman’s Corner, 1.5 miles west of the stones, to start work on the new exhibition and visitor building. In September, the Highways Agency will begin preliminary work that will lead to the closure of the A344 at Stonehenge.

Simon Thurley, the chief executive of English Heritage, said: “A new dawn at Stonehenge is truly upon us. Though the stones themselves have never failed to awe visitors, their setting has been a national embarrassment and disgrace.

“After nearly 30 years English Heritage finally has a scheme that will transform the setting of the stones and our visitors’ experience of them.

“The restoration of the landscape together with a major new exhibition on site will finally give our greatest and most famous monument the treatment it deserves.”

The heritage and tourism minister, John Penrose, said: “People have been talking about the project for nearly 30 years and so I’m absolutely delighted that work is finally under way to preserve this internationally recognisable prehistoric world heritage site, and to improve the visitor experience for those who come to marvel at it too.”

The project, developed with the support of the National Trust, Wiltshire council, the Highways Agency, and Natural England, will transform the setting of Stonehenge. The section of the A344 that runs past the monument – almost touching the heel stone – will be closed and grassed over, reuniting the stone circle with the surrounding landscape. A remaining part of the road will be closed to public vehicles, and will become the route of a new visitor shuttle service to the stones.

The existing outdated facilities, car park, fences and clutter near the monument will be removed. Visitors will be welcomed at new facilities located at Airman’s Corner and, instead of approaching the stone circle from the east on a busy road, they will approach over chalk downland from the west, either via a 10-minute journey on the visitor shuttle, or on foot.

A visit to the stones should, for the first time, be enhanced by a large exhibition curated by English Heritage experts that will tell the story of the complex site and its relationship with the wider landscape. It will feature important objects excavated near the site on loan from the Wiltshire Heritage Museum and the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum. The visitor building also features education rooms and improved amenities with full disabled access.

Throughout the construction, visitors will continue to be able to visit Stonehenge.

The project will not satisfy everybody. The A303 will continue to rumble just south of the site. A plan to build a tunnel so that traffic was not visible or audible to visitors to Stonehenge was rejected by the government because of the high costs.

Apart from a £2.6m Department for Culture, Media and Sport grant spent before government funding was withdrawn in June 2010, the money for the project comes from 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 the stones. English Heritage said it needs to raise only £500,000 more.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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