HL Deb 02 November 1995 vol 566 cc173-6WA
Lord Kennet

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the logo on the Highways Agency's documents for their forthcoming conference on the A.303 near Stonehenge, which shows one of the Stonehenge trilithons closely draped in a motorway was seen and approved by Ministers, and whether it indicates the agency's policy and if neither, what was the cost to the taxpayer of its design;

What officials from what Government departments are expected to attend the Highways Agency's conference on the A.303; whether they will participate in it; and what is the expected cost to the taxpayer of their presence there;

How many participants are expected to be present throughout the conference on the A.303; whether local authority members or officers or their consultants are expected to attend; if so, will their expenses be reimbursed and if so by whom; and what reimbursements are available to other interested parties who attend;

What status would the "resolutions" billed for the conference on the A.303 have for the Government, in view of the non-representative and non-expert character of the conference and the absence from the documentation of the "long tunnel" Ministers undertook to consider "seriously" at the end of the last consultation exercise, and how will these "resolutions" be weighed against the conclusions of the expert international conference mounted by English Heritage in 1993;

Why a civil engineer has been chosen as chairman of the World Heritage-related conference on the A.303; what instructions have been given to him, and by whom on the range of issues the conference may discuss; and particularly whether all questions relating to the "green route" (i.e., the route including the long tunnel) and of possible sources of funding for it will be open to discussion, and whether ministers will instruct the Highways Agency to include the 'green route' on the agenda, and to circulate information on it to all participants; and

Which Government departments are now concerned with developing plans and funding for an appropriate setting for Stonehenge and its surroundings in accordance with the responsibilities assumed by Her Majesty's Government under the World Heritage convention as a result of their designation of the Stonehenge area as a World Heritage site.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

The conference logo, which is intended to represent the issue of roads and Stonehenge in graphical form, was chosen by the independent chairman of the conference. The logo was produced at a cost of less than £40.

Officials from the Department of National Heritage and the Ministry of Defence will attend the conference to represent the interests of their departments. Representatives from English Heritage will also attend. Members of the Highways Agency will be on hand to answer questions on matters of fact and to provide information when requested to do so by the chairman. Expenditure on travel and subsistence which is properly incurred by officials attending the conference will be reimbursed.

About 180 people have been registered to attend the conference thus far. It will not be clear until the conference starts how many of them will be present throughout. The figure of 180 includes local authority members and officers. We do not know whether local authority representatives will be accompanied by their own consultants. Where costs are incurred by delegates representing local authorities or other organisations, it will be for the organisations concerned to decide whether and how they should be reimbursed. No reimbursement will be available for individuals who attend in their own interest.

The planning conference is in addition to the normal statutory procedures under the Highways Act 1980 and will not affect the rights of individuals and organisations to object to or make representations about any subsequent proposals which may be published by the Highways Agency. The planning conference brochure refers to the conclusions of the International Conference of 1994. Ministers will consider the resolutions of the planning conference carefully before making any decision on the way forward for the A.303 Amesbury-Berwick Down improvement scheme. This could include the announcement of a preferred route.

More than 20 individuals were considered as candidates for the chairmanship of the conference. The selection was made by reference to their experience, qualifications, reputation and availability. The chairman will have unlimited discretion to decide on the range of issues (including possible routes and their funding) which may be discussed at the conference. The conference brochure states that various long tunnels have been carefully considered by the Highways Agency but "rejected as being unaffordable". Documentation on all the work carried out by the agency will be available at the conference.

Stonehenge is managed by English Heritage, on behalf of the Department of National Heritage. English Heritage also advise the department on its statutory responsibilities arising from the site's designation as a scheduled monument. Although no additional statutory controls arise from Stonehenge's designation as a World Heritage site, the Department of National Heritage has overall responsibility for ensuring that the site is maintained in a condition benefitting its outstanding importance as a World Heritage site. The Department of Transport, through the Highways Agency, is responsible for designing and funding any road proposals in the area. As the Ministry of Defence own land in the vicinity of Stonehenge, they too have an interest in proposals affecting the World Heritage site.