CONSTRUCTION of the long-awaited, £27million Stonehenge visitor centre is well underway.
The centre, which will create 35 new jobs and be used by around 1.25 million tourists each year, is set to open this winter.
Two buildings have been constructed at Airman’s Corner to house an exhibition, a cafe, shop and education centre, from where they will take a passenger transit vehicle the 1.5 miles to the stones.
The vehicles will be able to carry up to 900 people an hour from the visitor centre to the stones, along the route of the existing A344, which will be closed to all other traffic except farm access. On the way the vehicle will stop at Fargo Plantation where there will be a viewing point for tourists to get their first glimpse of the ancient monument.
Work on the contents of the exhibition is well underway and will include an audio visual presentation, display cases, interactive features and exhibits loaned from Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, many of which have never been on display before. Stonehenge director at English Heritage Loraine Knowles said: “This visitor centre will let us tell the story of Stonehenge, how it evolved over millennia.It will also transform the whole landscape – it will be truly fantastic.”
The visitor centre will employ 78 people. The entry price for the visitor centre will be announced later this year along with the opening date.
* The opening of the visitor centre could be a huge boost to the south Wiltshire economy according to tourism bosses. Because it will take a minimum of two hours to visit Stonehenge, they say visitors are more likely to stay in the county rather than visiting area on a whistlestop tour of the south west.
“At the moment you have coaches pulling up, people spending 20 minutes taking pictures of the stones and then going on to Bath and the Cotswolds,” said David Andrews, chief executive of Visit Wiltshire. “They are not here long enough to spend any money and are taking their business elsewhere.”
Once the A344 is closed it will not be possible to stop and see the stones from the road, which English Heritage says will build up a sense of anticipation.
Other tourist attractions are also hoping they will benefit from the new visitor centre.
“We want to co-ordinate the way we are presenting information about Stonehenge,” said director of Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, Adrian Green. “At the visitor centre they will learn its history while we will have displays focussing on the excavations and more recent discoveries such as the Amesbury Archer.
“We will each tell part of the story and encourage people to visit the museums as well.
“There are tremendous opportunities for marketing and it could be a fantastic boost for the economy in this area.”