Bank of Scotland to fund Sidell Gibson scheme but Granada tie-up could prove crucial in winning £30m deal.
The two-horse race to develop a £25m-30m private finance initiative visitor centre at Stonehenge was still on this week after a consortium led by Sidell Gibson Architects found a new financial backer.

The consortium had lost ground to a rival led by Edward Cullinan Architects and contractor Fitzpatrick after developer MEPC left it last December. However, the Bank of Scotland has stepped into the breach, and the consortium wrote to Sir Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage, this month to advise him of its backer.

In a second significant development, Sidell Gibson’s consortium has signed up Granada, owner of one corner of the Stonehenge site, currently occupied by a Travelodge and Burger King. It is understood that Granada has agreed to replace these with new facilities in keeping with Sidell Gibson’s proposals for a visitor centre, conceived as a “Gateway to Wessex”.

A source close to the project said: “A key player in any of this is Granada. The visitor centre has to work in parallel with whatever it does. Whichever team it has got into bed with has to be hot favourite.” A spokesperson for English Heritage confirmed that two teams were still in the running: “We are still trying to reach a firm contractual arrangement with a preferred bidder.”

Culture secretary Chris Smith invited PFI bids for the visitor centre last April as part of a £130m masterplan for the 2000 ha world heritage site.

Sir Jocelyn, who retires as chairman of English Heritage next Friday but will continue as chair of the Stonehenge Executive Group, is expected to announce the winner before the end of next month.

The Stonehenge Executive Group includes representatives of the National Trust, Wiltshire County Council, Salisbury District Council, the DETR and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It reports to a Stonehenge steering group chaired by Smith.

The winning visitor centre scheme will include an interactive attraction, education, retail and catering facilities and a park-and-ride service to the ancient stones.

Both shortlisted designs are understood to be circular in shape. Cullinan’s scheme makes more of an impact on the landscape, whereas Sidell Gibson’s is a ground-hugging, timber-tiled, organic structure featuring a central courtyard.

A planning application for the visitor centre is due to be submitted this year, with completion scheduled for 2003.

  • The Highways Agency will announce in the next fortnight the preferred designer of the 2 km cut-and-cover tunnel that will divert the A303 under the Stonehenge site after 2005. The shortlisted teams are Mott MacDonald, Halcrow, Ove Arup & Partners, High-Point Rendel and Scott Wilson.