A nice pickle, Eric In October 2012, following an appeal from developers, Bloor Homes and Hallam Land Management, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, overturned a unanimous decision from Stratford District Council to block the building of 800 homes and a link road on land at the back of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery.
The people of Stratford upon Avon have been supporting their directly elected Council to resist the attempts of developers on this land for over 20 years. There are good social, environmental and cultural reasons why it should never happen. In 2011, the District Council voted unanimously to reject the latest proposal, submitted by Bloor Homes and Hallam Land Management, who were then granted an appeal by Eric Pickles. In April 2012, a Public Inquiry was held in Stratford upon Avon.
We haven’t the time or patience to go through the details of the Public Inquiry again. It was hell on earth for everyone (except Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, who played no part).
By Localism, we don’t mean ‘localism’ …
As we all awaited the decision in October 2012, the Government announced that it was attempting to kick-start the economy through house-building. In essence, this meant that, despite the Government’s much-vaunted Localism agenda, local councils should lean towards giving consent to new building proposals, even when there were valid reasons to oppose.
It looks like the Government is using the Shottery development as a precedent for other building projects around the country. All the developers have to do is point to a poor local Plan – or in Stratford’s case, no Plan at all – and they have the legal precedent. Ironically, it drives a coach and horses through the notion of Localism – but, hey, the Government didn’t really want a policy aimed at acquiring votes to get in the way of those who fund the party, did they?
Nice one, Nadhim
On 8 November 2012, Stratford MP, Nadhim Zahawi, slated Eric Pickles in a House of Commons statement for destroying , in a single stroke, the people of Stratford-upon-Avon’s belief in the government’s localism agenda. That’s up-and-coming Conservative MP, Nadhim Zahawi.
“It grants permission for a village-sized development to be welded to the edge of this important, historic town and to build a new link road directly behind the cottage in which William Shakespeare’s wife grew up, which is a significant tourist attraction. Anne Hathaway’s house is a Grade 1 listed building. It has a registered listed park and garden, and is an integral part of the Shakespeare story, which itself is an integral part of the story of our island, our culture and our language. This decision will create a permanent scar on the landscape, breach a historic town’s boundary and begin an urban sprawl into what are currently open fields. In the planning inspector’s own words, there will be ‘harm’ to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and, moreover, ‘a degree of adverse effect on tourism numbers cannot be ruled out.’
All great, but, in many respects, too little, too late. But, of course, it’s never too late.
Who to trust?
And you’d think, wouldn’t you, that the guardians of Shakespeare’s heritage would have a very easy decision to make. After all, they are the only decision-makers who stand in the way of this development going forward. To bring their plan to fruition, the developers need the land that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust owns next to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. If it is refused them, they may not go away. But they will have to re-submit an alternative proposal which goes around that land – which means going through the entire planning process all over again. And, this time, the world will be ready for them.
In the meantime…that is, right now…
To sell, or not to sell?
On 28 November, the executive board of Trustees of the SBT will discuss the Shottery development and the possible impacts on Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and gardens – and on the reputation of the Trust. If they were hoping to keep it all ‘hush-hush’, it’s too late. We’ve acted because it seems that whatever SBT are officially saying in public is not what some are saying in a private capacity.
If the great and the good of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust ever thought taking developers’ money would be a no-brainer and that the world would quietly let them accept on a flimsy pretext of having no choice, they are now having to think again.
The power of social media today is instant. In just two weeks, Save Shottery has reached more people and spread the message about this development further afield than 20 years of polite campaigning. And it’s proved our point that this is about Shakespeare – an issue of national and global importance – not a NIMBY protest.
We are in contact with SBT and we hope, eventulally, to be able to evolve this campaign into a good news story where SBT are doing something heroic – i.e. being brave enough to stand up to developers, say ‘no’ to their money, stop the house and road building and find a more positive way to raise funds to save Shakespeare’s life and times.
That’s how things stand. You know where we stand. But we still don’t know where the Trustees stand. There isn’t much time. Please act fast. Sign the petition. Use the comments box to let the Trustees know how you feel. Tweet the world.