The Board of Trustees of the National Trust seek support for their Stonehenge policy.
The Board of Trustees of the National Trust may be on a collision course with their wider membership as it asks members to oppose a resolution at the Trust’s forthcoming Annual General Meeting, which would require the conservation organisation to oppose Highways England’s controversial short tunnel proposal at Stonehenge and reaffirm a commitment to protect the entire Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape.
The resolution, which has been proposed by National Trust members including historian Tom Holland, argues that the Trust should respect World Heritage Convention obligations regarding the Stonehenge landscape as a whole. The resolution also asks the Trust to acknowledge that the so called short tunnel proposal, while removing traffic blight from the centre of the World Heritage Site [WHS], would damage other parts of the WHS for ever.
Observing that the 10 square miles of archaeological landscape which make up the WHS is designated as of outstanding universal value to mankind and is described by UNESCO as a ‘landscape without parallel’ the resolution also asks the Trust to,
“work with others to seek solutions to A303 part-time congestion and associated rat-running at weekends and holiday times that do not involve damaging the WHS or its setting.”
Arguing that the Government and Highways England’s criteria of affordability, deliverability and value for money are not relevant to the Trust’s decision making regarding the 2.9 kilometer tunnel, the entrances and dual carriage ways of which cross part of the designated World Heritage Site landscape, the resolution concludes,
“We fear the reputation of the National Trust is compromised by its promotion of and support for a short tunnel at Stonehenge in direct conflict with WHS planning guidance and policies and Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention.”
In its response the Board of Trustees of the National Trust recommends that members vote against the resolution stating that, along with other bodies such as Historic England, the Trust has adopted an incremental approach to the planning process for the tunnel, concluding,
“Our view, therefore, remains that the focus should not be on tunnel length but rather on finding the best location for the new infrastructure, an approach supported by Historic England, English Heritage Trust and leading archaeologists.
As the project progresses to detailed design we will continue to ensure we test independently any Highways England plans using the International Council on Monuments and Sites’ methodology for assessing positive and negative impacts, an approach endorsed by the World Heritage Centre.”
From this it is clear that, even if the resolution fails, like English Heritage the operators of the Stonehenge site itself, the National Trust may well find itself in direct opposition to a vocal and committed portion of its membership, not to mention a substantial body of independent experts such as the twenty one leading archaeologists who published an open letter opposing the Highways England proposal.
With that it is inevitable that the National Trust’s reputation as a conservation body which is prepared to stand up to big money and speak truth to power in Government may also be on the line.
National Trust members have until Friday 13 October 2017 to vote on the resolution by post or on-line.
The results will be announced at the Trust’s Annual General Meeting in Swindon on Saturday 21 October 2017.