Responses to Geoffrey Wainwright's Report `the Stonehenge We Deserve', Antiquity 74 (2000): 334-42

Article excerpt

`The Stonehenge we don't deserve'

The Stonehenge we are offered

No sooner has Geoffrey Wainwright (2000) put forward English Heritage/National Trust (EH/ NT)'s latest dream in its Stonehenge Master Plan (1999) than it evaporates, another will o' the wisp on the downs. Contrary notions prevail in its twin, the Stonehenge Site Management Plan (2000), to which English Heritage is also a party. That other plan, intended to find consensus, evidently prefers the long bored tunnel over the short cut-and-cover and believes that profits from a `world-class' visitor centre should go to managing the site -- rather than the commercial promoters Wainwright anticipated would run it.

Since EH was founded in 1984, we have had many `definitive' Stonehenge plans. In one period of just 12 calendar months, during 1996-7, EH put forward successively three different proposals, each promised as the decisive solution. The last time Dr Wainwright wrote for ANTIQUITY, under the title `Stonehenge saved?', he ended: `We intend that work should start in 1996 with completion in good time for opening in the year 2000 to celebrate the new millennium' (1996: 12). Now, writing in the year 2000 with nothing started or completed or yet to celebrate, he ends: `We must now seize this opportunity and bring the plans to reality so that by the end of the decade we will truly have the Stonehenge we deserve' (2000: 341).

Is this kind of Stonehenge solution financially achievable?

As we write in September 2000, no commercial partner has been found; as EH/NT indicated on 10 July in a Press Release they will instead go ahead themselves without commercial funding. Where is the capital to come from? Plans have depended before on a large gift from the national lottery, alongside money from a commercial partner, since EH/NT has no large investment funds of its own.

From its similarity to the Tussauds scheme of five years ago (EH/NT 1996; Tussauds 1997), the present scheme can be expected to cost upwards of 60 million [pounds sterling]. One can always shrink a scheme, but each `de-scoping' gives less value for money. Some bills -- buying the land and making the car-parks -- stand whatever the size and quality of the visitor centre. Small buildings cost more per unit area than do large. `Heritage sources' are also now to put money into the highway work, leaving less for the visitor provision. On borrowed money, the scheme could need to generate say 8 million [pounds sterling] annually, just to service its capital.

EH (1999), under current Stonehenge arrangements, clears an annual surplus of 1.6 million [pounds sterling] (3.4 million [pounds sterling] income, 1.8 million [pounds sterling] costs). In the past, EH has expected to maintain this surplus for itself.

So a scheme needs to generate an annual surplus of around 9.6 million [pounds sterling] to fund its capital and to satisfy EH. A split-site operation, shuttle buses, visitor numbers varying much by season, by day and by hour, mean high running costs. With this funding and 1 million visitors a year, an average 9.60 [pounds sterling] has to be extracted from each visitor after those costs are covered. This is impossibly high when comparable attractions set the market price: Avebury (admission free), Stourhead house and garden (8 [pounds sterling]), the Tower of London (11 [pounds sterling]). The full adult admission price to Stonehenge is currently 3.90 [pounds sterling].

A `demand' model and a `supply' model: two routes to a Stonehenge solution

One can approach the Stonehenge conundrum through the `demand' for Stonehenge visits or through the `supply'.

A `demand' model starts with how many people want to visit Stonehenge and what they are happy with. Because the actual site is small -- the stone setting is only 30 m across -- it is often busy. Most visitors are not archaeology buffs, not expecting a long walk, not wearing clothes and shoes suitable for tramping in rain or far in summer heat. …