A tool of conservation5 April 2021
Some of you may raise an eyebrow or two at the article on p29 of this month’s issue of T&TI seeing it is an extract from an arts magazine. But I make no apologies for its inclusion in this distinguished tunnelling journal.
But before you ask why it is included in a magazine aimed mainly for engineers, let me say it is nothing to do with painting, sculpture or the arts generally, but concerns a real, live issue that pops up in tunnelling time and time again. When or how can we justify the building of a tunnel to the rest of society?
The said article concerns England’s prehistoric monument at Stonehenge, believed to have been started by various tribal peoples, starting in 3,000BC and completed over 1,500 years. It is of huge importance – a national monument and a designated World Heritage Site. But it will also be the location of a planned £1.7bn, 3.2km-long tunnel which was recently approved by the British government.
As with many tunnels and other significant infrastructure projects, there has been much controversy and debate as to whether it should be built at all, mostly emanating from the conservation and heritage lobbies. Detractors say the tunnel portals will damage ancient artefacts and sight lines, and that the site should remain undisturbed.
But the article reproduced here is written by a pillar of the UK conservation community. Prof Timothy Darvill argues that not only have top archaeologists, and other consultants used state-of-the-art technology to ensure the most optimal outcome with minimal disturbance, but that ancient artefacts discovered as a result of desk and field evaluations have helped inform the scheme and tailored the tunnel alignment to avoid areas of archaeological importance.
In the final analysis, Darvill argues, the tunnel should be seen as a tool of conservation: it takes a road – a source of air, noise and light pollution – and tucks it away underground. And it will ensure that the views of the winter solstice sunset – so important for those ancient peoples and their modern-day followers – can once more be enjoyed from the monument, unimpeded by modern traffic.
Many in tunnelling would see conservation as the obvious consequence of a tunnel. Unfortunately, there are those who either cannot or are unwilling to see beyond their concept of another huge, costly infrastructure project ‘defacing’ the landscape.
So we must continue to argue the case for tunnels and underground construction generally for, as at Stonehenge and elsewhere, infrastructure of this nature is often a means to conserve the environment and make the surface more pleasant and liveable.