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Letters: Shedding light on the Stonehenge myths



I believe it would be helpful to point out the main reason for the cancellation of the original Stonehenge project.

Uniquely, the project had been included in the national Roads Programme with the special status of an “exceptional environmental scheme”. It was sponsored jointly by two government departments - Transport and Culture, Media & Sport - and was subject to a cost sharing agreement between those departments. This was in recognition of the wide range of benefits to be achieved in the interests of both departments.

The cultural benefits for Stonehenge and the World Heritage Site are inestimable and are worthy of a tunnel in their own right.

No attempt was made to monetise them for inclusion in the conventional cost/benefit analysis which, taken alone, does not portray the true value of the project. When the tunnel costs increased, due to unforeseen difficult ground conditions, the Department for Transport was unwilling to meet the entire cost and the Department for Culture Media and Sport was unable to secure its share. It was that obstacle first and foremost that led to the project’s cancellation.

If it is to be resurrected and successfully delivered, there has to be a more joined up approach to ownership with clearer accountability. The problems remain for all to see, with an undeniable need for something to be done.

  • Christopher Jones (M), ex-Stonehenge project director (through public inquiry and government review),

It is categorically wrong to say that the Highways Agency has “faffed around” and spent “upwards of £160M” on modest junction improvements on the A303 near Stonehenge over the last seven years ( NCE 31 October).

The facts are that £7M has been spent to remove the A344 from the Stonehenge site, with improvements to the A303 Longbarrow and A360 Airmans Corner junctions.

We have done this in partnership with English Heritage and Wiltshire County Council so that they could deliver the new Stonehenge visitors centre at Airmans Corner.

That modest investment has improved the ecology and environment around the stones themselves now, without waiting for a larger future investment.

New ICE President David Balmforth says that “we are the trusted body”. Indeed, it is the engineers and many other professionals in the Highways Agency, our consultants and our contractors who have been working hard to earn the confidence that major infrastructure projects in sensitive locations can be delivered at the planned cost and by the planned date. That is not “faffing around”.

We are now being entrusted with an ­ambitious roads investment programme, and we look forward to demonstrating that
this trust is well placed.

  • Graham Dalton (F), chief executive, Highways Agency, Federated House, London Road, Dorking RH4 1SZ

The stated cost of £540M (2007 values) of the initial Stonehenge tunnel ECI contract nearly 10 years ago was for a 2.1km long twin bore tunnel, plus 8km to 9km of dual carriageway plus structures. The reference to the scheme being scrapped as a result of unforeseen ground conditions is misleading. The essential site investigation carried out at the time discovered phosphatic chalk, considered likely to affect construction. This challenge remains.

The groundwater and disposal of some 1M.m3 of chalk are also significant environmental challenges.

The cost for the suggested Stonehenge Alliance scheme is likely to be in excess of £1bn. How can anyone seriously justify spending such a sum on a project with little tangible benefit? Protecting our heritage is one issue but not at any cost. We cannot afford such a project.

  • Derek Godfrey (F), Grove Lane, Holt, Norfolk NR256ED


Thinking through road building

Road building and widening is of course a totally pointless activity. I am sure the Campaign for Better Transport will tell you that. In fact it already has (NCE 15 May).

Road building and widening is entirely pointless because its consequences are not thought through; it’s short-termist. We need to engage the human brain and concede that building roads will only see them fill up with even more traffic again. It’s lazy Eric Pickles-style politics to allow it.

This short gain pointlessness has been researched and evidenced again and again. It’s an imperative, now more than ever with seeing those road schemes’ zombie resurrections, to speak sense.

We now need engineers to talk intelligently and knowledgeably against this madness (doing something repeatedly and expecting a different outcome). It’s like loosening the belt on obesity when our country choke binges on its fatness.

The public health aspect of roads - air pollution, noise, inactivity - costs the NHS tens of billions when active travel options gains the country tens of billions of pounds.

It’s money the health service can ill-afford to squander. The government must integrate externalised costs by making departments effectively work together (the Departments for Transport and of Health in particular) for a better fairer healthier society for all. Eric, on yer bike, mate.

Katja Leyendecker,

It’s grim down South when you consider London

I have to agree wholeheartedly with the comments raised by Ian Dutton regarding the lack of sustainability associated with the seemingly accelerating growth of London (NCE 30 October). I was recently there for a week long course held at the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and was astounded at the rate of change. While standing on London Bridge I counted 20 tower cranes without much effort, and saw buildings which I would be pleased to see built and used in the North being torn down to put up even bigger and more impressive ones. The whole place exudes quality and attention to detail, but at the same time seems to be losing genuine character.

One morning’s walk to the seminar venue took me past what I (rather ignorantly) thought was a “nice old church” which had been swamped by modern development. I described the location to one of the SPAB course organisers and I was informed that it was actually Southwark Cathedral. Shocking.

What was once an important historic focus south of the river has now almost entirely lost its context and significance.

While waiting at Euston Station for my return home I had time to read an interesting article in the supplement to the London Evening Standard.

The article focussed on “twenty somethings” who, despite having worked successfully in London for seven or eight years since graduating, had no savings, still had residual debts from student life, and were not on the property ladder - or even close to the bottom rung.

The comparison with life up in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, etcetera is stark, and to
be honest frighteningly unsustainable.

Never mind the North- South divide - this is a South-North abyss! Just don’t let everyone know how normal life can be “up here”… sorry, but we really don’t want to be booming…

  • Richard Houghton (M), 14 Duke Street, Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 9AB

One body that is a cheerleader for engineering

I was pleased to see John Williams’ call to arms (NCE 30 October) challenging all engineering professionals to get out there and engage with school children to promote engineering as a career and as a profession.

But what he (and other readers) might not know is that there is already a dedicated team of enthusiastic and experienced communicators doing just that in

Their entertaining and engaging presenters regularly talk to more than 1,000 school pupils at a time in high profile theatres around the country, and there is always an engineer on stage showing how the maths the pupils learn at school is needed to design the things they enjoy using like stadiums and rollercoasters.

So perhaps readers might find it easier, and more impactful, if they used their influence within their own companies, to support the work of MathsInspiration by volunteering to join the team as a presenter or sponsoring their events locally, as does the Institution of Structural Engineers…

  • Paul Shepherd,

What David Balmforth taught me

Warm congratulations to professor David Balmforth as he assumes the role of ICE president. Many years ago he was head of the school of construction at Sheffield Hallam University.

I was one of a group of friends revising in a classroom into the late evening hours when professor Balmforth ventured over to enquire what we were doing. We were revising structural engineering and he stated that he was a bit rusty on the subject but he would happily work through our revision with us and go over any difficult points on the white board.

It was an exceptional example to set to those aspiring to be leaders in the profession — one that has stayed with me throughout my career.

  • Laurence Green (M),

A better place to spend the HS2 billions

Before a penny is spent on High Speed 2 (HS2), or 3, or both, ought we not to think again, perhaps. Talk is of 30 to 35 minute journey-time savings. Is it really so onerous having to rise half an hour earlier to catch a train?

I would suggest that if we really want to increase the prosperity of all places north, perhaps the billions earmarked for HS2 and 3 might be much more profitably spent were they diverted to directly upgrading and expanding our industrial productivity in those regions, particularly in those market areas with greatest export potential.

This could be done by introducing the most up-to-date, most efficient, manufacturing processes, and intensively training complementary local workforces equipped with the skills to ensure full advantage is taken of the competitive edge so gained over international competitors.

  • Charles Brindley (M. Rtd),


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