Shakespeare Birthplace Trust fiddles while Shottery drowns

Diana Owen braved the bad weather and a big crowd at the Stratford Community Forum last night (Thurs 22 Nov) to give us the latest briefing from Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) on the development in Shottery.

She told us the full board of trustees had received a detailed position, including legalities, at their meeting on Saturday 17 November. She mentioned that the Trust can only act on its charitable objectives, which include looking after Shakespeare’s properties for the nation in perpetuity (a point we keep reminding them of).

Having told us all along that the full board of trustees would not decide the fate of Anne Hathaway’s fields, it now appears that they will. They apparently realised that the decision is too big and important for the Executive Board – who meet on 28 November.

The immediate role of the executive trustees is to gather more evidence for the full board. So, at the eleventh hour, the SBT are finally commissioning their own structural surveys of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage as well as legal advice on compulsory purchase orders, and assessments of traffic, environmental impacts and reputational damage.

Public opinion counts

Save Shottery supporters can easily take a lead role in assisting the SBT’s assessment of potential reputational damage, by signing the NO SELL OUT petition: http://tinyurl.com/avluuvk  and leaving a comment. All replies go directly to Diana Owen, who assures us they are collecting them all and passing them on to the trustees.

Nearly 1,200 people from across Stratford and the UK and 19 countries around the world have already signed and asked the SBT not to sell out Shakespeare’s heritage to developers. But we must keep up the pressure and get more people to sign before 28 November.

Latest [unedited] comments include:

“Shakespeare is one of the most important English men ever to of been born.  His influence on language and the arts has spanned 4 centuries and covered the world.  To sell this land to developers is a crime against culture.”  Truro, UK

“This is a site of great international cultural importance and it must not be desecrated in this manner. Do the developrs have any culture, if they are prepared to make such a proposal. The Shakespearean connections bring millions of visitors to Stratford and the Hathaway cottage is a major tourist site that tourists wish to see. To allow the sale to go forward, when the Town Council objects to the proposal, would be an insult to democractic procedures in the country. Trustees are responsible for the support and ongoing preseservation of the cultural icon placed in their care to safeguard its value for future generations. Not to protect the Hathaway property at this time would be an absolute dereliction of the trustees’ duty.” Lewes, UK

“Born in England.  Read Shakespeare for pleasure all my life.     Know Stratford-on Avon well and visit often.     Whole district should be Heritage Listed.  Good Luck” Australia

“This is important as it is about protecting the heritage and ambience of Britain’s history and unique culture.” Singapore

Fiddling while Shottery drowns

Why the urgency? Afterall, Diana Owen told the meeting that the SBT “will not make a snap decision”.  To which Cllr Kate Rolfe eloquently snapped back, reminding the Director that SBT had known about this this issue “for an awfully long time” i.e. many many years.

When pressed why the SBT hadn’t done anything about preserving the land at the Planning Inquiry, Ms Owen came out with the most lamentable excuse: “English Heritage spoke at the Inquiry and so did RASE and the Council. As you’re not allowed to repeat the arguments, we didn’t take part. And, there was a cost issue.”

A cost issue? What about the cost to the nation? While SBT fudges and fiddles, the whole town suffers and Shottery drowns (almost literally the other day).

Flooding on Cottage Lane 21 Nov 2012

One resident remarked that the environmental assessment needed to be taken during the floods as this is something the Secretary of State does not see as a problem, even though it repeatedly affects the area. And that’s without any run off from hard surfaces on the steep hills and slopes.

I was allowed to put one last question to Diana before she sloped off from the meeting. “Will you publicly publish the declarations of interest from all your trustees on this matter?” I asked. She replied: “We always declare them at the beginning of each meeting.”  Try as I might, she would not confirm that those interests would be ‘publicly available’, even though a landowner and property developer rank among their trustees.

Showstopper

Cllr Chris Saint, head of Stratford District Council, followed, confirming that the Council had ratified the decision to appeal against Eric Pickles’ ruling. Papers are being prepared, but the exact legal arguments are all a top secret!

Save Shottery offered our full support to the Council and asked: “What can we do to help you?” While Cllr Saint was very flattered by our enthusiasm to help, he said there isn’t anything in particular that we could do right now. But maybe there is…

He went to great lengths to reassure the assembly that “not a brick can be laid” by the developers. But he was less convincing when he tried to assert that “the SBT are not showstoppers and the Council must still appeal”. The crowd supported the Council’s appeal but a former SBT tour guide questioned what would happen if the SBT said they would not sell.

Cllr Saint said that if SBT don’t sell, the developers would have to amend their application or submit a new one and start a whole new application process.  As one sage gentleman behind me pointed out, it would therefore be beneficial if the SBT refused to sell.

So, there is something we can do – get more people to sign the petition and tell the SBT that their reputation will be in tatters if they sell out Shakespeare’s Shottery for short-term profit instead of preserving it against Pickles – now and for the long term.

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