On the 21st October, the National Trust will be holding its AGM at STEAM: the Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon.
On the Agenda is a Members’ Resolution regarding the A303 at Stonehenge. The saga of what to do about the road system around what is arguably the UK’s premier archaeological site has been continuing for years. The latest proposals from Highways England involve widening the A303 across the site, the construction of a c.2.9km expressway tunnel, and the reinstatement of the line of the Stonehenge Avenue. The proposals are endorsed by Historic England, English Heritage and the National Trust: their joint position statement from February 2017 can be viewed at historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/news/historic-england-english-heritage-national-trust-on-proposed-a303-stonehenge-tunnel .
Significant concerns about the proposals have been raised however, not least because in essence they involve construction of a new road within the area of the World Heritage Site – a move that will cause untold damage to the archaeological landscape. UNESCO has condemned the proposals and is urging the Government to consider a longer tunnel or southern bypass to avoid damaging the integrity and significance of the WHS, and a group of leading archaeologists has combined to object to the scheme. The Members’ Resolution draws on these concerns and invites members to require the National Trust to protect the integrity of the heritage landscape, respect the World Heritage Convention obligations, acknowledge that the tunnel proposal is damaging to the landscape, agree with other conservation and environmental bodies that no further damage to the WHS should occur, and work towards solutions to the A303 issue that do not involve damaging the WHS or its setting.
The response to the Resolution by the Board of Trustees acknowledges the strength of feeling and passion that Stonehenge engenders, but suggests the impact of the tunnel is mitigatable, and contends that even if it were longer, damage to archaeology would still occur. The National Trust Board are urging the membership to vote against the Members’ Resolution, and – in effect – support the Highways England scheme.
Stonehenge is more than simply a stone circle: it sits within a huge ritual prehistoric landscape of avenues, barrows, earthworks, and settlements, most of which are unexcavated. With the advent of new survey techniques, more of these are discovered each year – yet we have very little firm understanding of how this landscape worked, or how it was used, went out of use, progressed or developed. The area has rightfully been designated World Heritage Site and to propose excavating and constructing a huge road scheme within this area is nothing short of a national scandal. As an example of how this country views its heritage the proposals are shameful. We can – and we must – do better. We should expect our leading national heritage agencies to do their utmost to protect the legacy of the past, and where that legacy is as spectacular as the Stonehenge landscape it is right that they should be held to account when they fall short. In supporting the current road scheme, the National Trust is indeed falling short of its obligations to protect and nurture our heritage, and this cannot go unchallenged. RESCUE urges that all members of the National Trust should exercise their vote on the 21st October, and use it to vote in favour of the Members’ Resolution.
Save the past: Support the Resolution: Reject the scheme.
The full text of the Members’ Resolution is available at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/documents/agm-booklet-2017.pdf along with the statement from the Board of Trustees (pages 6-7) and details of how to cast and return your vote (page.20)