World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO for their outstanding universal value. They are managed to conserve this value for future generations in perpetuity. These two together combine to create a sense of ‘timelessness’. Some people seem to value this sense of time slowing down or standing still, also related to a sense of ‘stepping back in time’. If time stands still in these places, then the future is knowable, it will be like the present. Phew! The more we worry about climate change, or even more short term changes such as economic collapse, the more the promise of timelessness seems appealing.
But of course even the most careful management cannot change the passage of time. While change may be debated for longer, some changes are eagerly anticipated, such as the development of new visitor facilities at Stonehenge. This change has taken my entire life to come to pass, and the new ‘solution’ is temporary. The building has been built with minimal foundations and service trenches with the intention of removing it when a more appropriate solution becomes viable.
Does the pressure to be timeless make it more difficult to plan for change? Management for timelessness requires close attention to much shorter time spans. Despite extensive and meticulous planning, English Heritage staff were surprised when the future arrived and the new visitor centre stopped being a plan and started being a place.
First they were surprised by the number of visitors, or possibly the number of visitors who didn’t want to walk. Either way there were huge queues for the use of the ‘land train’ to bring visitors from the centre to the stones. Queuing was not the ‘forever’ experience that visitors wanted.
In fact, the queue highlighted a challenge for the new visitor centre. Stonehenge is a stop on the regular tourist route from Heathrow airport to Bath. Changes in how long it takes to ‘visit’ impact itineraries with many more factors like restaurant bookings and toilet breaks spread across Southwest England. Stonehenge may be the experience of a lifetime for some, but it has its time slot for tour organisers.
This timing problem could be solved by buying more land trains so they could run more frequently. But there were further unanticipated futures stemming from desire to increase ‘dwell time’ at the site. If the same number of tour busses stay longer at the site, they need more space in the parking lot.
The planning permission for 26 more coaches is valid for 2 years.