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Stonehenge

Volume 469: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

Following the announcement in this House on 6 December that the Government will not continue with the A303 Stonehenge improvement scheme, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), and I will meet key stakeholders this evening to discuss the way forward for Stonehenge. Our aim is to find a new solution to improve the setting for Stonehenge, including new visitor facilities, with work being completed in time for the Olympics in 2012.

The Minister has my ensured support for her every effort in finding something to save from the wreckage of the Department for Transport’s Stonehenge fiasco. In seeking to build a new visitors’ centre within five years, will she please not go for a cheap and cheerful option? It must be a world-class, high-quality visitors’ centre appropriate to the greatest world heritage site in this country. We must now look forward and not weep over what happened last week.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman and look forward to working with him to find a lasting solution to the problems affecting a wonderful world heritage site that is currently spoiled by the visitors’ facility and the surrounding road infrastructure. I hope that there will be co-operation across Government. He will know from his time with responsibility for the issue how difficult it is to get all the stakeholders together around the table absolutely determined to find a solution. The catalyst of the 2012 Olympics will, I hope, concentrate everybody’s minds.

Stonehenge is a first-rate heritage site with second-rate facilities supported by a third-rate tourism policy. Even the United Nation’s World Heritage Committee is complaining about the standards at Stonehenge. The Government now admit that they have nothing to show for 10 years of work after spending £23 million of taxpayers’ money. Does not this reflect the Government’s attitude towards tourism, with budgets cut and a failure to stand up to other Government Departments? It has been some time since the druids conducted their last human sacrifice at Stonehenge. Such is the anger at the Government that I suggest the Minister treats with caution any invitation to Stonehenge that she may receive for the next summer solstice.

I have already visited Stonehenge; it is an issue of major concern that I want to resolve. I have had good discussions on the subject with the hon. Gentleman’s Back-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key). This Government have invested more in the past 10 years in supporting our heritage and tourism than the previous Government managed in 18 years. I have no doubt that with good will on all sides—including the local Conservative county council and the local district council—I am sure we will reach a conclusion.

That is not an answer. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman would have taken a similar decision had he been sitting on this side of the House. We could not afford to undertake the scheme that was on the table and we need to find a lasting, better and—