At the time of the inscription of the property in 1986, the World Heritage Committee ‘noted with satisfaction the assurances provided by the authorities that the closure of the road which crosses the avenue at Stonehenge (A344 road) was receiving serious consideration as part of the overall plans for the future management of the property’. However, a series of delays have since taken place regarding the road closure and in long overdue improvements to visitor access to the Stonehenge part of the property, its presentation to visitors, and to the setting of the monuments. In consequence, the World Heritage Committee has repeatedly urged the State Party to address these issues as a matter of priority.
On 31 January 2009, the State Party submitted its report. It had announced in December 2007 that it intended to deal with progress on the closure of the road, visitor management and access as a matter of priority. A Project Board chaired jointly by the Minister for Culture and the Minister for Roads was then quickly formed to oversee the development of the revised management plan for the property, and to develop firm proposals for environmental improvements, new visitor facilities and the closure of the A 344 road past Stonehenge itself, stating its commitment to complete these improvements by 2012.
a) Visitor facilities
Since cancellation of the previous scheme for a large visitor reception building outside the property at Countess East in December 2007, (as a result of the dropping of the A 303 road improvement scheme due to increased costs), the report states that considerable progress has been made to expedite the long overdue improvements to visitor access to the Stonehenge part of the property, its presentation to visitors, and to the setting of the monuments. No details are provided.
However it is stated that the Project Board in January 2009 made an agreed recommendation to Government Ministers on the way forward. This is now being considered, and Ministers hope to make an announcement shortly. The World Heritage Centre will be updated on progress, as and when it occurs.
b) management plan:
Facilitated by English Heritage a revision of the management plan had been carried out by the Stonehenge World Heritage Site Committee during 2008. The revision process involved a wide stakeholder group through the Stonehenge Advisory Forum, and included a three-month public consultation period involving an exhibition, a questionnaire, a website, and a mailing to local residents. Published in January 2009, the stated priorities for the period 2009 - 2015 including to:
· Maintain and extend permanent grassland to protect buried archaeology, and to provide an appropriate setting for upstanding monuments;
· Remove or screen inappropriate structures or roads, in particular the A344, and keep the A303 improvements under review ;
· Enhance the visitor experience by 2012 by providing improved interim facilities
The State Party confirmed that conservation works to Silbury Hill were completed on 6 May 2008, and an archaeological monograph, setting out the repair methods and associated archaeological discoveries is in the course of preparation.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS acknowledge that progress has been made, but that this has principally been administrative, involving the production of a revised management plan, consultation procedures, the setting up of developmental groups, and Ministerial consideration. Little physical progress to resolve the concerning issues has occurred on the ground in the property. A revised target date of 2012 has now been set to achieve them, with promises to keep the World Heritage Centre informed of progress as it occurs.