Back in 2000, which was by no means the very start of the ‘Stonehenge Saga‘, the Journal of Architectural Conservation published an article by Elizabeth Young and Wayland Kennet outlining the “national disgrace” that constitutes facilities at Stonehenge. The existing visitor centre was slated for its “grubby car park, tiny shop and loos”, and the authors complained that the stones themselves were fenced off. Additionally, attempts to agree on a plan to upgrade facilities had failed completely, and the situation had escalated into a “smouldering dispute that might, without care, burst into acrimonious flames”.
Since the first proposals, in 1991, to build a visitor centre at the Fargo site, any attempts to improve facilities have been thwarted. The size and scale of the site makes it difficult to build anything in walking distance of the stones without endangering the landscape and archaeology of the area, and UNESCO and other heritage organisations have long opposed suggestions that underground tunnels should be built to ferry visitors to the site.
The last 18 years have seen millions of pounds squandered, with plans proposed, opposed and vetoed on an annual and even bi-annual basis, and the appointed architects dropping out altogether. This January, a letter from the Council For British Archaeology stated that only two out of the latest batch of ideas developed as part of a public consultation were in any way feasible, and suggested that new facilities should be built on the site at Airman’s Corner.
This site is further from the stones than the initially-proposed Fargo site, and could appease some heritage organisations. Could there be light at the end of the rejected tunnel after all?