Stonehenge. Picture © English Heritage
The wrangle over a new visitor centre for Stonehenge inched closer to a resolution today after the Government confirmed the location of a £25million visitor centre scheduled for completion in time for the 2012 London Olympics.
The announcement from Culture Minister Barbara Follett's Stonehenge Programme Board begins an inevitably lengthy process of planning permission attempts, design submissions and fundraising, with sources including English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Highways Agency, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Transport expected to provide key backing.
Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said Airman’s Corner was "a sustainable and affordable solution", set almost two miles west of the current Stonehenge setting with "good access" to the stones. "Today's announcement marks the first steps towards making long held aspirations for Stonehenge a reality," he declared.
A positive addition to the announcement is the planned closure of the A344, which will reduce the environmental damage to the stones by moving traffic away from the site.
"Consensus on how to improve visitor facilities has eluded stakeholders for far too long, and so I am delighted that we now have plans to move forward," added Follett. "There is still along way to go, of course, but we now have to get on with making it happen."
The scheme also received the qualified backing of Society of Antiquaries President Geoff Wainwright, one of the country's foremost scholars on Stonehenge who led the first excavation at the site last Summer, the first for 50 years.
"It will be a dramatic improvement for visitors while ensuring that the special landscape and character of the area is sustained," he said, urging all parties concerned to work to make the vision a reality by 2012
Mr Wainwright also pushed for further steps to be taken to restore the site and reduce the impact of traffic.
"The A344 must be closed for its entire length between Airman's Cross and Stonehenge Bottom," he said. "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."
For more information about Stonehenge visit English Heritage online.