Developing a Visitor Transit System for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site
J P Hawthorne,Sinclair Knight Merz, UK
World class transit for a World Heritage Site. Addressing the challenges in developing an environmentally acceptable visitor transit system to link the prehistoric monuments at Stonehenge with the proposed new visitor centre.
Stonehenge is one of the most important prehistoric monuments in the United Kingdom, and is recognised as a World Heritage Site. Yet it has been famously described by a UK government committee as a 'national disgrace'. It is currently surrounded by roads and its visitor facilities are inadequate for today's needs.
The Stonehenge Project plans to provide a dignified setting for this iconic monument. A new visitor centre is planned, with improved road access and parking for cars and coaches. The intention is that visitors should be able to enjoy the experience of exploring Stonehenge in a wider context, without the distraction of traffic and other intrusions in the landscape. However, the new visitor centre is some 3 km to the east of Stonehenge, and it will therefore be necessary to provide a high quality visitor transit system to transport visitors from the visitor centre to drop-off points within the World Heritage Site. This system must be capable of carrying peak visitor numbers within stringent limits for noise and visual intrusion.
A key concern is the need to minimise the impact on the landscape, both in the construction of the trackway and the environmental and operational characteristics of the vehicles to be used. A detailed Service and Quality Specification has been prepared, against which potential vehicle types, including guidance and propulsion systems, can be evaluated. The risk of damage to sub-surface archaeological features, and the stipulation that the trackway should have a natural surface, effectively rules out virtually all tracked or guided systems. Possible vehicles types will have to meet strict criteria for noise, visual impact and emissions.
The visitor transit system must complement the other visitor facilities. Thus emerging details of possible vehicle capacities are fed back into detailed service plans, to ensure that the capacity of the transit system can be matched with overall visitor management plans for the site, and to enable the width of the trackway to be minimised in the most sensitive locations.
Detailed discussions with manufacturers have already been undertaken to ensure that potential vehicle types could achieve high environmental standards. It is also important to minimise operational risks in a high-profile location.
The initial proposals for the visitor transit system formed an important part of the planning application for the visitor centre, and were subject to detailed examination by the local planning authority. The visitor centre received planning permission with the provision that more detailed plans for the visitor transit system must be approved before construction can commence. However, this approval is currently subject to review by central government.
A further complication is that the development of plans for the visitor centre is closely connected with a scheme by the UK Highways Agency to improve the adjacent A303 trunk road, including a tunnelled section in the vicinity of Stonehenge itself. This is currently awaiting funding authority.
This paper describes progress to date on the development of the visitor transit system, and in particular the measures necessary to secure public acceptance and obtain planning permission. Subject to the progress of the review, and funding decisions regarding the improvement of the A303, it is hoped to include an update on next stages in the conference presentation.
Association for European Transport