Culture secretary Chris Smith has unveiled a new masterplan for Stonehenge which casts doubt on the involvement of Edward Cullinan Architects, closely linked with the site for several years, and once again raises the question of private finance.
The masterplan, to clear the stones of 'unsightly modern surroundings, pollution and clutter', will still include a visitor centre, but it will be moved from Fargo North to Countess East, ouside the World Heritage Site. The centre will take up to 10 years to build, because of road closures caused by the carving out and covering of a new 2km road (half the length of the original scheme). The job of designing the centre will go out to tender, as English Heritage wants part of the £125 million cost to be met by private money.
'Cullinan was involved many years ago, but [the job] will be going out to tender,' said an eh spokeswoman. 'We are not building the visitor centre; we are not planning on providing the money. We have to get business involved and before we do that we cannot say who will build it or what type of centre it will be.'
This is a big about-turn, according to one of the architects, Roddy Langmuir, who said that eh had given its word that Cullinan was still involved, but had not committed the pledge in writing. 'This is the first I've heard of private-sector involvement for a long time,' he said. 'eh said it was just waiting to tie up the political ends and deal with road issues and site selection before going with us. It was looking at our original appointment to see how it would be extended.
'The scope of what it will retain responsibility for hasn't been defined yet. How much control it keeps over the design for the visitor centre is still uncertain.'
This is the latest in a growing list of setbacks for the Stonehenge site. Cullinan's won the visitor-centre competition in 1992, but the centre's location has been moved constantly ever since because of visual and archaeological sensitivity.
Costs have been trimmed by nearly a third from around £300 million for the original scheme. The issue of private finance was raised last June after the Millennium Commission refused funding. Tussauds dropped out of a planned £10 million investment, and last July the Royal Fine Art Commission's Lord St John of Fawsley savaged Sir Jocelyn in the Lords for five years of 'muddle, confusion and conflict'.