Local furore as Stonehenge visitor centre plans go on show in Wiltshire

By Culture24 Staff | 11 July 2009
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A picture of stones on grass at Stonehenge

Plans for the proposed new £25 million visitor centre at Stonehenge (above) have gone on display

After years of debate and disagreement over the proposed new visitor centre at Stonehenge, this week should have been a more positive one for the UK's most high-profile historic heritage spot.

Last Saturday (July 11 2009) officials from English Heritage unveiled the plans for the long-awaited £25 million development, followed by search engine giant Google annoucing the attraction will be added to its infamous Street View mapping system after it won a public online poll of the most popular off-track destinations in the country.

Google arrive at a time of controversy at the Wiltshire icon, after a prominent local politician lambasted the blueprints, calling them "more like an immigration centre than part of something ancient and mystic."

A picture of a middle-aged man with glasses in a suit smiling into the camera

Paul Sample said Tess of the D'Urbevilles, who was arrested at Stonehenge, would be "turning in her grave" at the proposals. Picture: www.paulsample.org.uk

"For the sake of a few million pounds, this project is a missed opportunity which will not serve the stones well," argued Salisbury City and Wiltshire Council member Paul Sample, comparing the retention of the A344 main road in front of the site to "drawing a big straight line with a marker pen across the face of the Mona Lisa."

"It falls well short of our expectations and more attention needs to be given to restoring the stones to their original setting, in fields unencumbered by any sign of the 19th and 20th centuries. The plans do not restore Stonehenge to a respectful setting within the World Heritage Site."

Sample was in no mood to mince his words about plans former Culture Secretary Andy Burnham hailed as "the first steps towards making long-held aspirations for Stonehenge a reality" when they were announced in May.

Launching an online poll for residents to give their views, he urged designers to scrap the current visitor facilities, positioned close to the relics.

A picture of monument stones at sunset

The new visitor centre is set to be completed by 2012

"It is nothing less than a bunker and, like Hitler's bunker, it should be razed to the ground," he tactfully suggested. "I am still anxious that the café and refreshment facilities will be turned into some horrible chain of global burger restaurants.

"It would be a tragedy if the new centre became another branch of McDonald's, serving Rock Burgers and Stone McMuffins. This should be a locally-run venture, employing local residents and using the very best locally-sourced produce from Wiltshire farmyards."

Culinary concerns aside, the former Mayor of Salisbury admitted the proposals were "an improvement on what is there at the moment," which should be gratifying news for Culture Minister Barbara Follett's Stonehenge Programme Board, who are inviting public comment on the designs with a view to completing them in time for the 2012 London Olympics.

A picture of people looking at enormous stone monuments on grass

Visitors are being asked to give their views on the designs

Set almost two miles West of the current Stonehenge setting, in a "sustainable and affordable" location at Airman's Corner, the scheme has won backing from Society of Antiquaries President Geoff Wainwright, one of the country's foremost scholars on Stonehenge.

"It will be a dramatic improvement for visitors while ensuring that the special landscape and character of the area is sustained," he said, before echoing Sample's call for the motorway to be entirely closed.

"We regard the proposal as a temporary solution until the A303 is removed from the heart of the World Heritage site and Stonehenge is restored to its landscape."

A spokesman for English Heritage told the Salisbury Journal they had contacted Councillor Sample to "ensure he is fully briefed on the proposals and the significant improvements they offer."

"The public exhibitions are designed to introduce the outline proposals to the public and for people to give their feedback, which we welcome," they said. "The concept plan for the visitor centre itself is designed for it to sit delicately on top of the landscape with minimal impact.

"We believe Councillor Sample will be pleasantly surprised when he sees the final plans."

Plans are on show at Stonehenge visitor car park on Thursday and Friday (July 16 and 17 2009) from 10am-4pm, and at Shrewton Village, High Street, Salisbury on Saturday (July 18) from 9.30am-1pm.

To cast your vote in Paul Sample's online ballot, visit the poll online.

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