As National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins once said (in 2008) : “To accuse the Trust of being effete, a little bumbling and slow to embrace change is really to accuse it of being what its public likes it for being. ”
Quite. Slow to embrace change, that’s the ticket, the charm, the thing that keeps the money flowing in from 4 million members. It’s “Forever, for everyone” that hooks them, and until recently the Trust has delivered. As Sir Simon recalled more recently: “When in 2011 the coalition government caved in to developer lobbyists and began to dismantle rural planning” the Trust “pivoted to militant mode.” Their stance has been not far short of heroic. So it was all the more shocking when late last year they did a screeching Top Gear u-turn at our national icon. It was like finding Sir David Attenborough is a Russian spy. Wow!
So the Stonehenge WHS isn’t as well protected as everyone thought. Yes it’s full of scheduled monuments, yes it’s covered by a UNESCO declaration but no, it’s not protected from sudden winds of change – especially if two come along at once (in this case, a perceived electoral advantage corresponding with a key guardian having a temporary brainstorm). So do we need something more robust? I noticed that in America they have something which might fit the bill. Here’s an example –
That land is designated “forever wild” under Article 14 of the New York state constitution so it’s status can only be changed by amending that constitution. Imagine if Stonehenge had been in New York State and covered by a “Forever Sacrosanct” statute? Right now it would be – well, sacrosanct – unless and until lots of complex procedures and votes said otherwise. Trouble is, it’s in Wiltshire and a lapse by it’s key guardian and a fag packet electoral strategy plan has done for it in a jiffy. Sacrosanct, nah. Sacrificed, yes.
Not that Britain is devoid of “robust protection”, we invented it. Just last week the Conservators of Malvern Hills have said no to a cable car as they are forbidden to say yes by at least 5 statutory provisions including the Malvern Hills Acts of 1884, 1924, 1930 and 1995! (So no question up there of “but we’d get votes out of it” and “Oh go on then!”) Not that statutes are the only techniques – the Americans also have things called “forever wild deed restrictions” which owners can impose on their land. Presumably the Trust could place a “Forever Sacrosanct deed restriction” on their land all round Stonehenge. It might not hold the line against a compulsory purchase order but it would at least show they are staunch defenders of what they hold in trust forever, for everyone, not unreliable ones. Incidentally, at Malvern the vote was 21-0 against the proposed development with one abstention. What were the voting figures at the Trust? You don’t know? Why?