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Stonehenge switches to 'uninspiring' visitor centre site

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Edward Cullinan Architects is to design a visitor centre for Stonehenge on a new site, west of the stones, selected last week by culture secretary Chris Smith. The news is a relief for the practice after it won the competition for a different site in 1992 - but the new Fargo North site is 'archaeologically sensitive', has an 'uninspiring approach' and scored joint lowest of the eight alternatives that Cullinan investigated for an English Heritage report six years ago.

eh last week confirmed to the aj that the practice will be designing a centre at Fargo North, which lies on the A344, a road which would need to be closed between the site and its junction with the A303. Culture secretary Chris Smith said the site offered the most acceptable location and would answer most of the concerns of local people, after meeting 50 representatives of local authorities and others in Amesbury last week.

'The Fargo North site offers the only realistic solution,' he said. 'The access and approach to the site will create the least disturbance for local residents, is within reasonable walking distance of the stones and it will have no visual and archaeological impact within the Stonehenge bowl.'

And English Heritage chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens, who once famously branded the current visitor facilities 'a national disgrace', said the package caused 'minimum disruption' to local residents, has 'virtually no impact on the archaeological landscape', is affordable, and requires no new roads on what is a World Heritage Site.

But an English Heritage comparison of options drawn up by Ted Cullinan in 1993, after mod opposition to the original Larkhill site, came to the conclusion that Fargo North was 'archaeologically very sensitive' and would result in an 'uninspiring approach' to the stones, a 1.1km walk away.

The visitor centre Cullinan has now been commissioned to design - although the firm has not been contacted by English Heritage - will be 'new and improved', with education and interpretation facilities, restaurant, offices and a shop. It is hoped that access to it and the stones will be free, but there will be a charge made for parking. Disabled people may have a new land cruiser to help them travel to witness the ancient stones, close up.

A dcms spokesman said the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions would be making a decision on the necessary dualling of the A303 road in the summer. As for funding the centre, it is expected that an application will be made to the Heritage Lottery Fund. But a more expensive aspect is a new 2km tunnel which is planned to extend from King Barrow Ridge to Berwick Down. eh said it was too early to say how much this would cost.

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