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Are you one of the 30,000 members of the Royal Oak Foundation, the organisation for Americans supporting Britain’s National Trust? If so, you’ll be paying somewhere between $65 and $10,000, depending on your status, and your Foundation has so far given the National Trust $7.5 million. You are then entitled to voice your opinion on how the National Trust goes about its business.
A resolution has been tabled at the National Trust’s AGM next month, asking the Board of Trustees to stop supporting the British Government’s intention to drive a new surface highway over part of the Stonehenge world-protected landscape. It asks the Board of Trustees to simply stick to their founding principles and to respect the fact that the World Heritage Site is of Outstanding Universal Value.
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If you object to President Trump’s attempts to weaken the protection enjoyed by US National Parks such as Bears Ears you’ll hopefully agree that if the British want a new road they must find a way to build one without causing major new damage to America’s and the World’s heritage – and the Trust shouldn’t be saying otherwise in your name. Please make your views known to the Trust. If possible please do in addition inform someone you know who will be attending the AGM – to ensure a proper hearing!

 

 

“Be sure your sins will find you out, especially if you’re married and her name’s Bertha.” [D H Lawrence]

Maybe some at The National Trust have been reflecting on those words lately. Their  “Bertha” is their commitment to the mantra “forever, for everyone” and their “sins” are that nevertheless they have supported trail hunting and the Stonehenge short tunnel. It’s long been obvious those two positions are untenable and now, after years of blatant dodging and diving, the Board has  finally agreed to allow Members to vote on both at the pending AGM.

Predictably the Board is asking Members to vote against both Resolutions! However, they don’t really explain why. No wonder, for in the case of the Resolution on Stonehenge the Trust is merely being called upon to:
1. Reaffirm its founding purpose to protect special places
2. Respect World Heritage Convention obligations
3. Recognise that major damage in a WHS can’t be justified by citing benefits
4. Accept (without further pretence) that the WHS has been designated as of outstanding universal value to mankind so it is not for Britain to unilaterally shrink the protected area.

As for that last point, the fact it is not for Britain alone to shrink the protected area, it’s significant that The Trust uses 550 words to tell Members to vote against the Resolution and yet manages to make zero reference to the important news that UNESCO has recently come out firmly against the short tunnel. That should tell you all you need to know about what’s happening.

Commenting on damage to a Jacobean ceiling at BS1 1DE Historic England say they are “saddened that this important 400-year-old feature has been lost for future generations.”

But drive 50 miles East to SP4 7DE and what saddens them is totally different: “We’re disappointed that the ICOMOS report largely ignores both the benefits of removing a large stretch of the A303 and the danger of doing nothing at all.”

As everyone knows, UNESCO didn’t ignore the benefits, it simply said it was not reasonable to say the benefits can offset the damage. There’s something very wrong when an organisation which exists to “champion and protect historic places” can be saddened about damage in one place but disappointed by opposition to damage in another. Maybe Historic England will explain? Or maybe they won’t!

 

It’s hard to express the answer in words. But this image of something on sale at a National Trust property tells you all you need to know.

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Bloody dinosaurs. It has now been taken off the shelves and they say that although they own the property the marketing there wasn’t their responsibility. Hmmm. Not an excuse they can use for the fact they charge money for allowing trail hunting on their land! So dinosaurs IS right.

So is the Trust capable of making sensible decisions entirely in the national interest, not its own about our national icon? (Bear in mind the Government said their support for the short tunnel had been “pivotal” which means without them it simply wouldn’t be happening).

Please make sure you make YOUR voice heard both before and during the Trust’s AGM at Swindon on Saturday 21 October!

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[ See also …. https://www.facebook.com/KeepTheFoxHuntBan/?fref=mentions ]

“The Week” magazine has just asked whether heritage destruction is ever justifiable. Clearly it sometimes is – else we’d have a world preserved in aspic and progress would be impossible. But the bigger question is when is it not justified. They quote some cases where it isn’t but where it happens nevertheless: Palmyra, The Buddhas of Bamiyan, Temple 33 in Guatemala and Hasankeyf in Turkey.

So why does destruction still happen even where, by any rational measure, it shouldn’t? The clue is in the fact that two factors are always present: an agenda to cause the damage and a group with the power to carry it out.

That’s what existed at Palmyra, Bamiyan, Guatemala and Hasankeyf – and it’s what exists at the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape where there’s a political agenda to damage and a group with the power to carry out it out (the Government, EH, HE, NT and Highways England.)

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Hasankeyf is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements on Earth, yet dynamiting of its Neolithic caves to create a dam is imminent. As one resident said: “We would like to apologise to the future generations for allowing this.” Perhaps soon the same apology may be owed by the British public. It certainly won’t be coming from HE, The National Trust and the rest.

 

 

In June US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that Trump should shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears’ National Monument and two others, saying it would be “appropriate to identify and separate the areas that have significant objects to be protected”. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) painted it in comforting terms: “it’s about how we protect our resources, not if we protect them.” Close your eyes and he could have been a Historic England spokesman!

Let no-one be in doubt, Britain is intending to shrink the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. How else can damaging part of it be seen? And that’s the published intention of EH, HE, the Trust and now Highways England. But do we wish to act like Mr Trump?

Also, there’s a second similarity between Britain and the States: in the words of Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities: “Clearly the outcome of this review was rigged from the beginning, otherwise the Trump administration would have listened to the 2.7 million Americans who told them to leave our parks the way they are.” Exactly the same in Britain: there was a dubious consultation the results of which the authorities are clearly frit to release. What is certain is that vast numbers of people said Hands off Stonehenge but the intention is to say “it’s only the people within the road corridor whose opinion matters!

If you haven’t yet done so please sign the petition to keep Trumpism out of Britain.

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As we recently said, EH, HE and The Trust have adopted an “ignore and misrepresent” tactic over UNESCO’s opposition to a short tunnel. Now Highways England has joined them. Asked about whether UNESCO’s condemnation would matter their Chief Executive said: I don’t think so, I mean we have the support of the major stakeholders.” Outrageous! That means UNESCO aren’t major stakeholders! Nor the wider public, for he says: When you look at the people who are in favour of us doing something they are the people who live somewhere on that corridor and they know the situation is desperate. When you look at the people who object they are, like UNESCO, from all over the world.”

Of course they are, as the suspiciously delayed Consultation result will show. There is massive opposition from eminent archaeologists, historians, writers, architects, artists and a legion of thinking people throughout Britain and the world as well as UNESCO. It’s a signal that the pro-short tunnel advocates are going to say it’s not those views that really matter, it’s the view of the local people – and they all want a solution that damages the World Heritage Site.

It’s not even true that local people want the WHS damaged and as for his implication that local opinions are the only ones that count it means that for the first time probably ever Highways England is saying that only locals should be listened to, which makes them supporters of nimbyism! That alone should be a reason to treat what they say with massive suspicion.

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See the full account by The Stonehenge Alliance here.

 

Wow! It seems that at the National Trust’s next AGM its members may be allowed a vote on whether trail hunting should be banned on its land. At last! Which prompts a bigger question: will they be allowed a vote on its support for the Stonehenge short tunnel too?

History suggests not, for in advance of the 2015 AGM a member asked them to reconsider their decision but it didn’t come up at the meeting. It was the same at the 2016 AGM, the word Stonehenge didn’t come up at all – not from the platform nor in the form of Members Resolutions, nor in the 22 questions from the floor, nor in the 24 questions submitted in the simultaneous webchat! You’d think it would, and there’d be a vote on it, wouldn’t you? Especially as the Chair, Tim Parker, said “I hope you can see we’re not just trying to take on the nice easy questions”.

Anyway, look out for the 2017 AGM, next October to see if there’s a Stonehenge vote at long last. Of course, to get a vote you need a Members’ Resolution and somehow last year the only two Members’ Resolutions were these ….

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Maybe you thought, when UNESCO said the benefits “cannot be offset against the damage” the game was up for the short tunnel advocates? Not so in the case of Highways England. We hear it’s set to simply ignore UNESCO. Predictable perhaps, given that it’s there to build roads in as straight lines as it can, not to save heritage.

So the remaining conservation hopes lie with EH, HE and The Trust. But no, they too are letting the landscape down but using a different technique: instead of heeding UNESCO’s words they are misrepresenting them, saying “the report largely ignores both the benefits of removing a large stretch of the A303 and the danger of doing nothing at all”. In truth, UNESCO didn’t ignore the benefits, it simply said it’s “not satisfactory” to say they can offset the damage – and it didn’t say “do nothing”, it urged Britain “to explore further options“.

So 1.) Ignore, 2.) Misrepresent. Any other tactics? Yes, here’s Mr Mike Pitts saying the southern route favoured by “some archaeologists” would be very damaging too! The implications of that are mind bending: is it going to be argued that it’s better to damage inside the WHS than outside? What would that do to Britain’s reputation?! Plus, imagine if the Government finally accepted UNESCO is right and the road must go south of the WHS – would EH, HE, The Trust and others be up in arms saying no, we disagree with the Government, the land outside the WHS must be protected, only the World Heritage Site should be damaged?! Curiouser and curiouser!

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This week we pointed out that the Stonehenge landscape is so precious and so important and so unique that Historic England et al. have no business approaching it in the same way as other places such as Calverley Park, Tunbridge Wells. The simple reality is that if somewhere is sacrosanct then damaging it is unacceptable, whatever the claimed benefits of doing so.

Today we were reminded that ICOMOS-UK and UNESCO have repeatedly said exactly the same thing about the A303 proposals at Stonehenge:

We appreciate the very real need to address the issue of the A303 and recognise that a tunnel could have beneficial impacts on parts of the World Heritage property. However, we are concerned that associated portals and dual carriageways could have a highly adverse impact on other parts of the World Heritage landscape that cannot be set aside however great the benefits of a tunnel.
[ICOMOS-UK (November 2014) in a letter to ministers]

“To suggest that this damage can be mitigated by benefits brought by the tunnel to the centre of the WHS, is to fundamentally misunderstand the commitments made to sustain OUV at the time of inscription of the property on the World Heritage List.”
[ICOMOS-UK, earlier this year, reponse to the consultation on the A303]

“It is not considered satisfactory to suggest that the benefits from a 2.9km tunnel to the centre of the property can offset the significant damage from lengths of four-lane approach roads in cutting elsewhere in the property.”
[UNESCO’s WH Centre (June 2017) in its report to the WH Committee]

Just how much explanation do Historic England, English Heritage and The National Trust need before they stop lobbying for damage to the protected landscape of our national icon? And who is advising Highways England on UNESCO’s advice?

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