Quick thoughts on A303 written representations

Well, the Stonehenge A303 proposed works examination representations are now in and available online. Many of the 264 documents (perhaps most) are from Highways England. But there are many more, including from Historic England (579 pages), National Trust (286), Stonehenge Alliance (218), Blick Mead (149, an odd submission, consisting mostly of copies of other people’s correspondence, not all of which supports their case), CBA (89), English Heritage (54), and so on. Will anyone not paid to, read them all?

Brian Edwards thinks someone has 11 minutes to listen to two songs. His piece about the history of travelling to Stonehenge is excellent and well documented (if not with my own article in Landscapes in 2008!), but I fail to see how the pleasure taken since medieval times by walkers, riders, cab passengers, cyclists and early road travellers in crossing the Stonehenge landscape has anything to do with drivers’ views from the A303. Driving over King Barrow Ridge does not deliver the experience of Turner or Constable at the easel. If the A303 is put in a tunnel, the walking experience in the World Heritage Site would be nearer to that of most of the people quoted by Edwards than it’s been for generations.

If nothing else, at least this will have great record value for future generations. Sadly, despite my professional obligations, I won’t have time to read every word, though I hope over coming months I’ll see quite a bit of it. There is a lot of redundancy – people copying UNESCO statements, repeating themselves in their own submissions, copying images from Highways documents and so on… sorry, it’s the editor in me. Naturally in a project this complex there remain many issues of concern, and Historic England and the National Trust among others seem to have done a good job of picking these up. But from a quick flick through I wonder if I’m the only independent person not against every single aspect of the proposed project, real and imagined?

My own submission (14 pages) sticks to a single point: archaeological excavation is destructive, regardless of whether you are paid to do it by a shiny prestigious academic grant or by a great big horrible developer. This is fundamental to the debate, and something about which (to quote myself) there “has been considerable public misunderstanding … and not a little professional”. I address the four key points raised by the “22 committee” ­ – the “consortium of Stonehenge experts” – none of which points, I argue, stands up.

It is, for example, patently absurd (as one of the Blick Mead submissions states) to say that the latter site “is of similar archaeological importance” to Star Carr. We have to be honest about this. It’s just not that important (note I’m not saying it’s not important, just that it’s really not Star Carr). I make the point that the fuss about potential changes to the water table assumes something that has not been shown to be true, that is, that unusual preservation at the site is due to waterlogging. When I wrote that I was aware that Blick Mead submissions might prove me wrong, as research is (presumably) in progress to examine this proposition. But it’s not there yet: no evidence has yet been published either that the site has unusual preservation, or that it has been waterlogged since the early mesolithic.

You can find all the submissions here.

The search option is helpful (look for “Deadline 2 Submission” as a starter), but my piece is here. If you see anything you think I’d find interesting, let me know!

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