Why axe Stonehenge Visitor Centre?
What is this about? After all these years of well-intentioned plans to improve Stonehenge for everyone (nearly a century if you follow it back), a popular, effective and cheap solution has been scrapped by the government in its first round of project savings.
According to the BBC, the chief secretary to the treasury Danny Alexander told MPs today that the government has cancelled 12 projects totalling £2bn “agreed to by the previous Labour government since the start of 2010”.
This is the full list, which I’ve arranged in order of money (there are also 10 projects “suspended”):
Two year Jobseeker’s Guarantee: £515m
Extension of Young Person’s Guarantee to 2011/12: £450m
North Tees and Hartlepool hospital: £450m
Rollout of the Future Jobs Fund: £290m
Sheffield Forgemasters International Limited: £80m
Local Authority Business Growth Initiative: £50m
Six month offer recruitment subsidies: £30m
Stonehenge Visitor Centre: £25m
Local Authority Leader Boards: £16m
County Sports Partnerships : £6m
Active Challenge Routes – Walk England: £2m
You can see just looking down that list that Stonehenge is quite different from the others. And consider what Alexander said:
• his predecessor as chief secretary, had gone on a “pre-election spending spree in the full knowledge that the government had long since run out of money”
• “As a result of the poor decisions made by the previous government, I have taken the decision to cancel certain projects that do not represent good value for money”
• “projects had been approved [by the previous government] with no money in place to pay for them”
• “I am determined to deal with this problem head-on and ensure we never see this kind of irresponsible financial planning in government again”
What has any of that got to do with Stonehenge? It was the Labour government that cancelled a far more expensive Stonehenge scheme (estimated to cost well over £540m) late in 2007, on the grounds that it “would not represent best use of taxpayers’ money”. Labour then replaced it with the much cheaper one that was explicitly billed as being cost-effective, “temporary” and aimed at having Stonehenge acceptable for the 2012 Olympics visitors.
In May 2009 then Labour culture secretary Andy Burnham announced approval for a new visitor centre costing up to £25m.
In October 2009 English Heritage released details of Denton Corker Marshall’s architectural and landscaping designs, which received planning consent in January this year.
So at what point did the scheme to improve Stonehenge turn from something people have been working on for many decades, into a “pre-election spending spree”?
And when Burnham announced approval for this scheme, he said funding would be “provided through a range of private and public sources”. So cutting the centre does not save the government £25m, and on the face of it the claim that it does is disingenuous.
How can this be seen as anything other than about politics, not money? So the question then is, what are those politics?