Avebury Saved?

Article excerpt

Stonehenge and Avebury

It was enormously encouraging to read Geoffrey Wainwright's summary of present thinking and action on Stonehenge in ANTIQUITY 70 (1996). The two-stage scheme for restoration of the henge to its landscape, beginning with closure of the A344 and removal of the visitor-facilities to a more distant location outside the World Heritage Site, is firmly in line with British Government guidance in PPG15 (1994: 6) and the principles advanced by ICOMOS in England's first World Heritage Site management plan produced for Hadrian's Wall (English Heritage 1995: 41). Let us hope that funds may be found to complete the 'Millennium Park' scheme and ensure that the A303 trunk road is placed in a long tunnel - an entirely suitable way of heralding the millennium and paying tribute to the skill of our forebears through the best of today's engineering. Let us hope too, that the tunnel portals can be sited sufficiently far away from the ancient Avenue and Cursus not to interfere with public enjoyment of these major monuments, for they too are a vital part of a remarkable landscape (see Wainwright 1996: 10, figure 1).

The present situation at Avebury

What is happening at the other half of Wiltshire's World Heritage Site? There is little chance of establishing a millennium park at Avebury, where the prehistoric landscape and monuments form part of a multi-period palimpsest of archaeological activity, inextricably associated with a living village to which access by road is a necessity.

ANTIQUITY readers may recall Michael Pitts' (1990) lively description of the developers' circus which began at Avebury nearly a decade ago. Since then there have been decisions on the West Kennett Farm hotel and Avebury Manor theme park Inquiries, in which the World Heritage Site designation was a factor in refusing planning consent and disallowing the appeals against Enforcement Orders. Michael Heseltine, then Environment Secretary, created a precedent in refusing Scheduled Monument Consent at West Kennett Farm, against the advice of English Heritage; he considered the entirely below-ground palisaded enclosure's remains 'of such archaeological importance that, in his view, their integrity should not be compromised by burial beneath further development on the application site' (decision letter, 19 December 1990). Safeguards against inappropriate development in the Avebury Local Plan (adopted 1992) have reappeared in the new Draft Kennet District Local Plan (deposited 1994). The Avebury experience may have been instrumental in the emergence of planning guidance for World Heritage Sites in PPG15; the Avebury Local Plan was helpful in forming planning policy affecting Stonehenge in the new Salisbury District Local Plan (adopted 1996). It should no longer be easy for major or inappropriate development proposals to be entertained in this World Heritage Site.

Local campaigners were delighted when the National Trust courageously purchased Avebury Manor in 1991 and two years later the West Kennett Farm buildings without endowment, thus ensuring their protection from further planning controversies. The pressure group Avebury in Danger thankfully disbanded itself and a new Avebury Society has been formed and registered with the Civic Trust.

Other good things have happened. The National Trust has removed most of the extraneous buildings from the Manor garden and, with new tenants installed, a programme of restoration is under way on the house. Rehabilitation of the West Kennett Farm buildings has begun, and a further land purchase has permitted almost all of the West Kennet Avenue to be grassed over for walkers. Medieval remains have been found at the Manor (Anon. 1993: 158), while recent work by the Wessex Archaeology unit and RCHME has produced further information about the Avebury area (Powell et al, 1996; Whittle forthcoming) and the unexpected find of a possible barrow within the henge (reported in this issue of ANTIQUITY). …