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!


3 thoughts on “Quick thoughts on A303 written representations

  1. I didn’t have a professional reason -or the personal time – to read the other submissions, but yours was short, clear and coherent. Oh, and I agreed with it.

    I recently was involved in making a submission to a Government consultation on something else entirely; some of the other submissions I saw had given no thought to the overworked civil servant having to wade though 90+ pages of incoherent polemic and trying to work out what the key points the writer was making were.

      1. I have now! Thanks for showing me this Simon.

        Colin Shell is clearly right about the map scales, and my point 1 is wrong. I’m glad this has been corrected. To confirm, the area of long barrows south of Salisbury that I compared to an area in the World Heritage Site is larger, so the claim that “the densest concentration in Britain of remains of Neolithic long barrows” lies near Stonehenge is safe on this evidence.

        Colin’s second claim, about there being “only two significant monuments in this group”, is debatable, He calls my assertion an error, but this is a matter of judgment. My point was that to describe the barrows to a non-archaeological audience as an “unusual and nationally important group of burial monuments” is misleading, when several of the barrows have been significantly lowered by ploughing and need an expert eye to see. It is nothing to do with the significance of the remains, but an observation about visual impact.

        My main point is not affected. I don’t question the interest and importance of this area as a relic of the past and as part of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. But in the wider context of the entire project, I don’t see that in itself as a necessary reason for not changing the roads. The interest of this area has been long known, but it has been under-researched, left to suffer damage from farming and is already blighted with busy roads and a roundabout. Construction of a road tunnel would require archaeological excavations to mitigate surface ground disturbance, and such work would be the same as all archaeological excavation – it would lead to a gain in knowledge. Together with improved public landscape experience that removing the A303 from within sight of Stonehenge would bring, new fieldwork would add value to the World Heritage Site.

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