Stonehenge visitor centre backed by £10m from lottery

Image caption,
The centre would be linked to the historic stones by a transit system

Plans for a new £27m visitor centre at Stonehenge in Wiltshire have been given a boost by a £10m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

In June the project's future was put in doubt after the coalition government axed £10m of funding.

The HLF is now providing more than twice as much funding as it had initially earmarked towards the scheme.

English Heritage said the cash narrowed the funding gap but it still had to find about a third of the cost.

The proposed centre would consist of a pair of single-storey areas of glass and timber about a mile-and-a-half (2.4km) west of the prehistoric stones.

The visitor centre's facilities would include exhibition and education facilities, a cafe, shop and toilets.

'Message of confidence'

A transit system would transport visitors to the World Heritage Site.

The proposals also include plans to close the A344 which currently runs next to the stones.

Baroness Andrews, chair of English Heritage, said: "We are tremendously grateful for this generous grant.

"Not only does it help to narrow the funding gap for the project considerably, it also sends out a message of confidence about the transformational benefits that the project will bring - to tourism, local economy and the conservation and public enjoyment of Stonehenge and its landscape."

Efforts to improve the site's facilities have hit several problems in the past.

The current scheme, which had been given the "go-ahead in principle" by ministers, is the latest in a long line of proposals.

'Iconic site'

In 2000 two projects were planned - to remove roads from around Stonehenge by placing the nearby A303 in a tunnel and to relocate visitor facilities to a new centre away from the stones.

The government pulled the plug on those proposals in 2007, saying the estimated £500m costs of the tunnel were too high.

Wiltshire Council Leader Jane Scott said it was a boost for Wiltshire's tourist industry and economy at a time when spending cuts were in the headlines.

"We will be working with English Heritage to make Stonehenge an even greater experience for the thousands of visitors who come into our county to see what is undoubtedly one of the most iconic sites in the world," she added.

Stonehenge, constructed between 3,000 BC and 1,600 BC, and thought to have been used for a variety of religious ceremonies, attracts around 900,000 visitors a year, 70% of whom come from abroad.

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