Heritage preservation lessons from Stonehenge


Preserving this part of our culture is a necessity

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in west of England, over 4000-5000 years old Stonehenge’s ring of standing stones are set within earthworks in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds. In 1986 it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site, just like Shalimar Gardens in Lahore. It is also protected by the English equivalent of our Antiquities Act. It is still not known why it was built in the Bronze Age, but apparently it was a religious site for the Druids – The Celtic nomads that inhabited the British Isles before the Romans arrived.

In 1986, the A 303 road was built that passes very close to Stonehenge, this dual carriageway that carried much of the traffic in rural Wiltshire was soon clogged particularly with Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) and by 2000 it was apparent that this road needed further expansion. As per British Law a series of public inquiries were held from 2002 – 2008, the commission that consisted of experts in various fields (technical, conservation, environmental etc.) and they held several public meetings where everyone was allowed to present. I know this as the engineering firm I used to work for at that time was also involved as transportation experts.

Several years of environmental and noise monitoring were undertaken to ascertain the exact impact that this project would have on the site, as well as sophisticated traffic forecast modeling of the various options that had been proposed. In the end it was decided that any further expansion of the road and the impact it would have would be unacceptable even though the road was (if memory serves me correctly) is more than 150m (450 ft) away from the structure itself.

In 2014 (after 12 years of study) it was decided that the A 303 would pass through a 2.9 km long bored tunnel, thereby obviating any adverse visual or environmental impacts to this World Heritage site. The option of cut and cover tunnel was also considered but rejected as the vibration and noise damage during construction would adversely affect the integrity of this monument.

Once this decision was made    the UK English Heritage Trust said “In our role as guardian of Stonehenge, English Heritage welcomes the Government’s plans to invest in a fully bored tunnel of at least 2.9km to remove a large part of the existing A303 from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site”. It further adds “English Heritage along with Historic England and the National Trust will work with the Government, Highways England and other key parties, to find a solution that protects the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site and addresses the adverse impacts the existing A303 has on this extraordinary place”.

Now compare this with the process that was followed in connection with the construction of the Orange Line train in Lahore, this too passes close to some thirty historical sites including Shalimar Gardens UNSECO declared heritage site. The director of antiquities Punjab gave the No Objection Certificate to construct this train line after two days of serious consideration, even though it directly violates an act of parliament that specifically prohibits any construction within 200 ft of the structure and prohibits any construction that “mars it view”, the ugly pillars that support the elevated track achieve this with great accuracy.

When hue and cry was raised by concerned citizens and a letter written by UNESCO voicing its concern another perfunctory impact assessment was carried out by the same entity that was designing this train which again gave the project the all clear, but without carrying out any serious technical modeling or extensive options study. In fact the proposed route was presented as a fait accompli with the rest of the study built around justifying this option.

That Lahore needs a mass transit solutions is not debatable, over sixty percent of all light vehicles (1.0m out of 1.6m) and twenty percent of all motorcycles (2.6m out of 10.3m) in Punjab are registered in Lahore district. At current growth rates by 2030 there will be over 3 million cars and 7 million motorcycles on the roads of Lahore – clearly a daunting prospect. But if any serious transport planner advises that a 250,000 passengers per day light rail system as solution, then he should not be taken seriously. The solution has to be an interconnected metro system capable of carrying 3-4m passengers per day and one that should go underground near historical sites.

This current proposal and methodology entirely misses the point of measured thought out transport plan. As proposed by the McKinsey Global Institute in their report on Urban India. “Urban management will be more effective if cities have local “owners” more closely accountable to residents rather than being run top-down by the state”.

It is obvious what is needed is a shift from an ad hoc 2018 election focused policy that lays waste to our heritage to a systematic set of policies that have a clearly defined long term approach that are affordable.


  1. You state incorrectly that for Stonehenge "a 2.9 km long bored tunnel, thereby obviating any adverse visual or environmental impacts to this World Heritage site" – the World Heritage site is more than 5 km wide so this tunnel is far too short and would result in devastating the site with tunnel portals and four lane infrastructure. If you are looking for a comparison where a nation and a government and heritage bodies seek to protect their World Heritage sites – Stonehenge and Avebury are the opposite of good examples.

Comments are closed.