In August 2008 HeritageAction wrote on The Modern Antiquarian that-
In the current edition of British Archaeology there is a two page article by Mike Pitts entitled The Stonehenge Olympics. The first page of the article contains a review of recent plans to improve the visitor facilities at Stonehenge and the second page is a summary of English Heritage’s latest Public Consultation initiative (see http://www.stonehengeconsultation.org/ for details). Mike Pitts makes an interesting point when he says -
“The government announced it was scraping the approved roads scheme on the grounds of cost last December. The day before, the DCMS said it was to give Tate Modern £50m towards its gallery extension, a gesture, it was hoped, that would ensure its opening in time for the Olympics. Now that seems unlikely, as fundraising gets tough, Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota is happy to say that his extension may not be ready till 2014.”
Note the word ‘happy’. Why is Serota happy? Couldn’t be could it that it gives the Tate the necessary time to get the extension right?
I’ve never been happy with tying in new visitor facilities at Stonehenge with the Olympic deadline of 2012 – it seems an impossible objective to achieve in only four years. English Heritage are expected to have their plans in for government scrutiny by the end of this year. The proposals then have to be approved by the government, and planning permission then has to be granted for the preferred site. Each of the sites proposed for the new facilities contain, or are close to, sites of archaeological importance; are these sites to be hurriedly excavated just to meet the government’s deadline for the 2012 Olympics?
Along with billions of other people I watched the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on television yesterday; pretty impressive, lots of people enjoying themselves – and why not. I couldn’t help thinking however that it was more than a bit ‘staged’ for world approval. While the Chinese authorities were claiming that this was a ‘green’ Olympics (hmm…) and the unfolding digital scroll showed the progress of the Olympic torch around the world, it somehow managed to omit displaying any of the ‘obstacles’ the torch had encountered along the way. This is nothing more than a selective interpretation of the truth.
What I’m getting at here is that the ongoing shenanigans at Stonehenge seem to have a similar, not to say uncomfortable, feel to them – re: the ‘manipulation’ of public approval. One idea after another for new Stonehenge visitor facilities, tossed out at the obscene expense of the British taxpayer, has achieved nothing to date. Nothing, that is, until now when reputations and personalities are coming under the national and international spotlight of the 2012 Olympic Games.
Stonehenge, perhaps our most important and iconic Neolithic monument, deserves a great deal more than the passing whim of the present (indeed of any) government, let alone the fleeting reputations of those in the political and sporting worlds. It certainly deserves far more than the timeframe dictated by the big Olympic party scheduled for 2012. Let’s take a leaf out of Nicholas Serota’s book and say we’d be happy not to have anything ready for Stonehenge for the Olympics in four years time, but what we will eventually have will be something which Stonehenge, and the people of Britain, deserve and can be rightfully proud of.
It gives me no pleasure to say, “I told you so” but if you read Mike Pitts blog here - http://mikepitts.wordpress.com/ that’s what it’s come to. Mike Pitts writes -
“Also in November English Heritage, having lost the £10m promised by the previous government for the proposed new visitor centre, regained it from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Hopefully now EH will be able to raise the rest of the money it needs: but Stonehenge won’t be ready for the 2012 Olympics, the politicians’ original claim, and instead if all goes well, at that time Stonehenge will be a bit of a building site.”
So, now that the Olympic pressure is off let’s do two things without further delay:
1) Secure finances for first class improvements at Stonehenge.
2) As there is no Olympic deadline to meet anymore let’s get it right. Right being the immediate closure of the A344. Right being a well-designed and aesthetically pleasing Visitor Centre. Right being a practical, and also an aesthetically pleasing, transport system from the Visitor Centre to the Monument.
There can be no more excuses and no more delays – the time has come this time to really get it Right!
Stonehenge Tour Guide