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CHRIS SMITH TO GRASP THE NETTLE ON STONEHENGE

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Culture secretary Chris Smith has pledged to act as a catalyst in finding a solution to the vexed problem of improv...
Culture secretary Chris Smith has pledged to act as a catalyst in finding a solution to the vexed problem of improving the presentation of Stonehenge. He will go to Stonehenge in mid November to meet the local authorities and other interested parties to hear their views before deciding on the best way forward.

Speaking at the English Heritage World Heritage Conference, Mr Smith said:

'For all the 20th-century clutter which surrounds it, Stonehenge remains a fascinating, mysterious and awe-inspiring place. It is England's - and arguably Europe's - most important prehistoric monument. It is firmly embedded in our national psyche, and one of the key symbols of Britain in the world's consciousness.

'However despite its importance, we have so far failed as a nation to find a way of presenting Stonehenge in an acceptable way to the 700,000 to 800,000 people who visit it each year. The existing car park and shabby temporary huts detract from the dignity of the stones, and the two roads cut the monument off from its landscape.

'In pursuit of its vision of returning the stones to their original landscape, English Heritage has produced a number of schemes over the years, but none has come to fruition. To his great credit, English Heritage Chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens has remained undaunted and has continued energetically to explore all the possibilities.

'One of these is the possibility of locating new small-scale visitor facilities at Larkhill. Its advantage as a stepping-off point is that it presents the most marvellous view of the Stones rising against the horizon; and it is not so far away that visitors would be deterred from walking through the landscape to reach them. Moreover, the existing byway provides a means of channelling them through this sensitive landscape.

'Despite these advantages, this option has previously faced a problem in the security issues surrounding the ministry of defence's Garrison at Larkill. I am pleased to be able to say that we have now been able to achieve real progress on this issue. Following detailed discussions, the MOD has raised no overriding objections on security grounds to the possible access route to Larkhill from the north-east of the site that English Heritage has been considering. Furthermore, the MOD has said it is prepared to make the necessary land available for the proposed road.

'This agreement with MOD opens up possibilities for using Larkhill that were not available before. However neither my Department nor English Heritage would wish to progress matters without further discussions with the local community. To this end I will go to Stonehenge in mid November to meet the local authorities and other

interested parties and hear their views on the various options for taking forward the management of this magnificent World Heritage Site.'

Mr Smith also announced that the government is to take steps to ensure that the UK's outstanding heritage - both built and natural - receives the international recognition it deserves. A new working group of experts will identify potential World Heritage Sites for nomination to UNESCO.

'The UK currently has 16 World Heritage Sites and we are awaiting the World Heritage Committee's decision - due in December - on the nomination of Maritime Greenwich. The variety of these sites is impressive for these relatively small islands. They range from sites of natural beauty, such as St Kilda and the Giant's Causeway, to sites of supreme historical or archaeological interest, such as Durham Cathedral and Castle and Stonehenge. However there is room for more.

'Over the last ten years or so, only three new nominations have gone forward to UNESCO - Edinburgh's Old and New Towns, Gough Island and Maritime Greenwich. Furthermore, the 'tentative list' of possible new nominations has not been amended over that period. It's high time the list was updated, and I intend to do just that.

'In collaboration with my colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, arrangements are now in hand to set up a group of experts to help the Government draw up a new tentative list of sites that could be nominated to UNESCO for World Heritage status over the next ten years. The group will include representatives of English Heritage, the UK arm of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the Countryside Commission and other relevant bodies.'

Mr Smith went on to highlight the key importance of Management Plans:

'It is not enough simply to to inscribe Sites. We must make sure that they are cared for in a way that is worthy of their significance and value. Indeed, UNESCO now requires that all future nominations for World Heritage status should be accompanied by worked-up Management Plans.

'So far only one Management Plan is in operation - that for Hadrian's Wall. However I am pleased to say that with the help in particular of ICOMOS (UK) and English Heritage, substantial progress has been made in developing plans for many of the other UK sites. Over the next year my department, in cooperation with the other agencies concerned, hopes to make substantial progress on these plans and encourage the development of others.'

NOTES

The Secretary of State was speaking at the English Heritage World Heritage Conference marking the 25th anniversary of the World

Heritage Convention.

The World Heritage Sites in the UK and its dependent territories are: Durham Cathedral and Castle; Fountains Abbey, St Mary's Church and Studley Royal Park; Ironbridge Gorge; Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites; Blenheim Palace and Park; Palace of Westminster, St Margaret's Church and Westminster Abbey; City of Bath; Hadrian's Wall Military Zone; The Tower of London; Canterbury Cathedral (with St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's Church); Castle and Town Walls of Edward I in Gwynedd; St Kilda; Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast; Henderson Island, South Pacific Ocean; Edinburgh Old and New Towns; Gough Island Wildlife Reserve, South Atlantic Ocean.

Despite its withdrawal from UNESCO in 1985, the UK has remained a party to the World Heritage Convention and has contributed over #100,000 annually to the World Heritage Fund to help endangered

sites. DCMS also provides funding to ICOMOS (UK), who produce monitoring reports and provide general advice to site managers. The

Government rejoined UNESCO as full members on 1 July 1997.

Copies of the secretary of state's speech are available from LGCnet on request. Tel 0171 833 7324/5.

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