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Lord Kennet: My Lords, does the noble Lord know that there is archaeology under all the grass to the south of the A.303 on the Stonehenge plain? By "archaeology" I mean things of interest to archaeologists.
Lord Harding of Petherton: My Lords, I realise that the whole site is of archaeological interest. That is why it is important to get this matter right. However, it is also important that people can see the stones. Why should they not see the stones as they drive past? It is not necessary to go right up close to them to see them. That is the point I want to make. I can see no reason why this road--if it is moved further south--should not be a dual carriageway. It is only one of a few stretches of the A.303 which is not dual carriageway.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I rise to speak in the gap in the speakers' list. I had intended to put my name down on the list and went to do so but I was distracted and absent-mindedly went away without having done so.
I speak not as an expert, which I am not, nor as a Minister who was responsible for two years for Stonehenge, nor as an Opposition spokesman but as a layman. The remarks I want to make are quite deliberately general in nature and personal in tone.
Every nation has its symbols and icons, many of which are architectural--that most political of arts. They provide a focus for our identity. For example, France has Versailles and Notre Dame; Italy has St. Peters and the Coliseum; we have ours, which include Stonehenge. The place that many of these sites have in our collective consciousness crosses national boundaries. Stonehenge is one such and symbolises more than anything or anywhere else the pre-Roman, non-classical history of western Europe. That is why it has been designated a world heritage site by UNESCO.
For all the debate in Budget week about economic means and shortage of money we must not forget that contemporary Britain is a rich country--one of the richest on earth. We both can and should ensure the health of our icon sites in the interests of the nation as a whole. The concept of re-establishing Stonehenge's setting, placing it in isolation away from roads and the other detritus of contemporary civilisation, is one which is noble and should commend widespread support on its own merits. As my noble friend Lord Renfrew has pointed out, this was the idea behind the most recent proposals for the stones which have run into difficulties.
At this point it is important not to cast about trying to apportion blame. Rather, we should coalesce around what I believe is a hugely exciting and worthwhile aspiration to try to take the matter forward. I mention briefly Stonehenge's relationship with possible interpretation and heritage centres. Never must such places, worthwhile and useful though they are, be permitted to be an alternative or substitute for the stones
Further, the mechanisms for access must accord with the dignity of the site and its inherent importance. The stones and their surroundings must not be impugned or debased by the way in which they are displayed and shown. I believe that the proposal to establish a new setting for Stonehenge, a minimalist setting of open downland framed by the natural skyline and the open sky is right for these magnificent megaliths. I also believe that if the excitement of that vision can be conveyed through the length and breadth of Britain, a huge momentum of support will be generated for it. That in turn will mean that a way will be found to resolve the very serious problems that must be overcome to realise it. After all, where there is a will there is a way; and in the meantime it would, I believe, be wrong for short-term expediency to prejudice the proper long-term solution. To do that would be to sell Stonehenge, the present and posterity, short.
I declare an interest as a planner and specialist in cultural heritage conservation, dealing with cities throughout the world. I believe that over time the problem has been management of the development of the idea of what to do with Stonehenge. Many complex subjects are dealt with in your Lordships' House. The subject is reviewed; papers are produced to inform all parties. There are White Papers, green papers, Bills and statutes, and it all comes to logical fruition.
Parallel care is required in managing complex planning subjects. Perhaps I may recommend a formal process, as for any Bill in your Lordships' House. The problem of how to manage the process and to develop consensus among the stakeholders must be addressed. Over 15 years, that has been the problem as regards Stonehenge. There is so much good will and good intention, but has there been a clear management structure on how to deal with a complex subject? There should be an assessment of historic and cultural values, followed by consultation. There should be a development of options and costs, followed by a consultation process. The preferred options should be selected, with consideration of costs incurred and revenues generated to overcome the financial questions, followed by a consultation process to develop consensus.
We are arguing here about basic factors. We are talking about solutions to problems. But quite often the values that we seek to satisfy are not clear. We have talked about solutions when we should have sought better agreement with primary and secondary stakeholders at all stages of the development of the idea.
The Earl of Haddington: My Lords, I, too, rise in the gap to state my appreciation of the great and wonderful monument of Stonehenge. Whatever moneys are given towards the development of Stonehenge, I hope that it will be left in as natural a state as possible--without signposts and roads around the site. Stonehenge does not comprise just the central monolith. A huge complex of burial mounds and barrows extends for several miles around. With modern technology tourists attracted to Stonehenge can be equipped with electronic listening devices rather than having unsightly signposts stuck around the countryside.
I believe that the planned tunnel underneath the stones would be totally inappropriate. Those who know the stone circles realise that beneath them are blind springs for aquifers which rise up in the chalk. Any tunnel which interfered with that would also interfere with the stone circle.
I much enjoyed and agreed with everything said by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, in introducing the debate. I was at Stonehenge on Friday, not by intention, but in passing the site I stopped. It is inconceivable that in a nation of the size and reputation of ours we should have allowed such a site to deteriorate into its current condition, with a tatty fence, a tatty car-park, rubbish everywhere and disconsolate-looking people wandering around clearly without any guidance, probably leaving the site, in the words of the famous song, thinking, "Is that all there is?".
That is half the problem with the site. It led to what I consider to be the mistake of involving the Millennium Commission in the first place. Stonehenge is not like the Tower of London, Hampton Court or any of the great castles around the country. It is a site with a mystical quality which requires a certain amount of effort on the part of those who visit it to appreciate and understand it. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn--I understand what he said--that the only way to see Stonehenge is on foot, but that is certainly the best way.
We now are in a similar position to one who invites members of the family to help with a crossword. There comes a point where one has to tear up the crossword because everyone has put in wrong solutions, and you have to buy a new paper and start again. I should like to see us going back to, I think, 1992 when we had what has been described as the Montagu solution. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, said. We then had this dreadful millennium thing. (On this issue
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, mentioned free access. I believe that that is a good idea which should be considered. Larkhill, a kilometre away, is a pleasant site for a reception area and seems ideal. If one is able to, one can walk--noble Lords shake their heads. I have been around the site. I think that the noble Lords who shake their heads are those who favour this extraordinary road solution which will cost at least £300 million. What is the point of moving the A.303? I can see the point of closing the A.344, turfing it over and creating some return to the natural environment which existed 100 or 150 years ago around these incredible monuments.
But surely the solution should be simple. If at some later stage, after we have got over this dreadful millennium, future generations decide that they wish to improve or extend the facilities, let them do so. But, for heaven's sake, let us get on with the process now. Let us go back to the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu.
The Prime Minister seems strong on these matters. Let him get to grips with the MoD. That seems something that he as a strong man can deal with where lesser men have failed. Let us in short order hope that the Government will gain access to Larkhill. We can have a simple solution, encouraging people to visit Stonehenge. If they wish to know more about it, they can return at a later stage or read about it. Alternatively, they can go to some place far away where, if they like that kind of thing, there is more of a theme park attitude. But let us leave Stonehenge in its original condition, with its original spirit. Let those who make the effort to visit the site enjoy it. They are not just our own citizens but people from all over the world. As I said to the Minister: do it quickly and do it now.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I should first like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, to his new government post. It is my first opportunity from these Benches to do so, especially such a distinguished man of this House, who carries great respect on this side of the House. We wish him well.
Like other speakers, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley for instigating the debate on a matter of such cultural and historic interest. He introduced it with his considerable knowledge, drawing on his former ministerial experience, and with his usual eloquence. My noble friend has certainly given the Minister, the Government, and indeed all of us, something to consider. The debate was enlightened by several very expert interventions, with a level of expertise which I cannot aspire to match.
In the brief four minutes available, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do not mention all the points raised by previous speakers or go into the details of the complex arguments, especially concerning the A.303 or A.344. That there were so many speakers is surely indicative of the interest and concern Stonehenge rightly evokes, despite the many previous debates in Parliament (109 parliamentary Questions since 1983 and seven debates since 1992).
The root dilemma is that the problems so rightly identified by many noble Lords involve a number of genuine, legitimate but conflicting interests. In nearly all the questions concerning Stonehenge there is often an environmental issue linked to the particular heritage issues. Moreover, there is usually a local community interest combined with a transport issue.
As clearly demonstrated in the debate today, this is an extremely complex subject, like one of those Chinese puzzles in which all the pieces stubbornly just will not fit together. Stonehenge is Britain's greatest ancient monument and the most famous prehistoric site in the world. It is a world heritage site, no less, with over 750,000 visitors a year.
With the millennium discussions in the forefront of our minds, is this not a propitious moment for us to be seriously considering the precarious future of this prehistoric monument, started some time before 3000 BC? It was interesting to hear the Larkhill proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that the National Trust and English Heritage, under the chairmanship of Sir Jocelyn Stevens, have painstakingly put together.
Today's debate really hinges on the basic problem of roads and their cost. Here the admirable 1985 report of my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu should not be disregarded. If the road problem could be solved, I believe the rest would fall into place.
However, I fear that the Government's new policy to cut spending on the roads does not bode well for Stonehenge. It will remain, shamefully, the "national disgrace" so rightly described by my noble friend Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn. The Prime Minister said much in support of the environment in Denver and New York. Let us see whether that fine rhetoric can be translated into effective action back home.
Given that this debate concerns the main route to the west, there must be a special environmental case that even within the overall ceiling on road spending this should take priority over other schemes. I very much hope that the noble Lord in his reply will be able to give us a positive answer and that he will urge the Secretary of State for National Heritage and the Prime Minister to solve this problem, perhaps in time for the millennium.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, is to be doubly congratulated: first, on choosing this important subject at this critical time; and secondly, on attracting such a glittering list of speakers. Almost everybody who has expertise in this area, whether archaeological, architectural, historical or environmental, has been
I yield to nobody in my recognition of the importance of Stonehenge. Without going into any of the other history, I remind the House what being a world heritage site (which Stonehenge is) means. Incidentally, I do so within less than six hours of this country rejoining UNESCO, which it does as of midnight tonight.
Being a world heritage site means two things. At the very minimum it means that there must be protection from harmful development. I believe we can be assured that there is to be no more harmful development--although, heaven knows, there has been enough in the past. It also means that the site has to be better managed and presented than it has been up until now. Noble Lords on all sides of the House gave evidence of that.
The problems relate to the number of interests involved in Stonehenge. The Department of National Heritage is the ultimate owner of the site. Incidentally, I am grateful on behalf of officials to the noble Lord, Lord St. John, for his tribute to their work in this area. English Heritage manages the site on behalf of the department; the National Trust owns many hectares of land around the site; as has been said on many occasions, the Ministry of Defence is concerned because of Larkhill garrison situated to the north; the Department of Transport is concerned, with its responsibility for the roads; and the Department of the Environment is also involved because of the involvement of local authorities. I remind noble Lords who praised the Larkhill site that Salisbury District Council refused planning permission for development on the Larkhill site as recently as 1991.
Above all, the difficulty is one of money. That is the difficulty that besets the most intractable problem of all; namely, the question as to where the A.303 should go. I think that we probably all agree that in any acceptable solution the A.344, the northern road, will have to be grassed over.
I remind noble Lords that in 1994 a planning conference examined alternatives for a tunnel and for a southern diversion. Both alternatives were opposed by English Heritage, the local authorities, the National Trust and by the archaeologists. In 1995 another planning conference returned to the idea of a tunnel because the northern route was then opposed by almost the same people who had opposed the previous proposals. The House will see how difficult the issue is.
The Government's aims are very simple, although not easy to achieve. We want there to be worthy visitor facilities and a dignified atmosphere for the stones themselves. As I said, government responsibilities in this respect are devolved to English Heritage. English Heritage has held a number of differing points of view about the site over recent years. Most recently, it proposed the concept of a Stonehenge millennium park, which was the subject of its application to the Millennium Commission. My noble friend Lord Kennet wanted the original Stonehenge millennium park,
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