National Trust AGM, 5 November 2022
Presentation for the resolution on A303 Stonehenge by Dr Kate Fielden
Good afternoon everyone.
Our Chairman rightly questioned: what will future generations thank us or blame us for? Independent planning inspectors and the former Transport Secretary say the Stonehenge road scheme would permanently and irreversibly damage the World Heritage Site; and UNESCO threatens loss of its designation if the scheme isn’t fundamentally changed.
Avoidance of archaeology is impossible. The High Court judged “This is not a case where no harm would be caused to heritage assets”. It ruled alternatives must be examined. The Trust’s own expert evidence finds a longer tunnel would give better protection, but any such change requested by the Trust now would require an entirely new scheme application.
The Trust’s “high quality solution that protects the World Heritage Site” isn’t on the table and without successful legal action, mechanical excavators would already be at work with the Trust’s full support. Over 100 acres of Trust land would’ve been compulsory acquired, including inalienable land, bound by restrictive covenants.
The Trust recently bought Bow Tie field – for those who took a leaflet at the door, it’s hatched green on the map. It cost £600,000 with a Heritage Memorial Fund grant for safeguarding archaeology and grassland restoration. But around half of the field is intended for a dual carriageway cutting and tunnel, with tunnel portals near the ancient Avenue. Like the sixty-yard-wide and forty-foot-deep western tunnel cutting, this massive eastern gash would be clearly visible in the landscape. (See handout with images of scheme here).
Why is the Trust so determined to see major road engineering at Stonehenge? Loss of archaeology? Loss of World Heritage status? Why support such damage to the historic environment while actively and rightly campaigning to protect the natural environment?
As members, we are concerned about the Trust’s example and reputation.
As UNESCO advice says: there are better solutions for future generations at Stonehenge.
Have Trustees been told the full truth about the road scheme’s impacts? Good governance surely requires them to reconsider their position.
Please, vote FOR the motion.
Sandy Nairne, Deputy Chairman for the National Trust opposes the resolution
This is a very significant topic because the National Trust takes its responsibility for the Stonehenge landscape very seriously and shares your view that it’s a hugely important place. However, the status quo is unacceptable. We support UNESCO’s own ambition 36 years since creating the World Heritage Site that the road must go. But finding a solution is complicated and some 50 routes have been explored over the years.
The Trust has worked closely with Historic England and English Heritage to argue for the best scheme. Our engagement has been expert-led and has resulted in significant improvement to the tunnel proposal. While there may be further to go, the scheme offers the opportunity to reunite this extraordinary landscape, benefit archaeology, restore nature and provide better access, opening up far more of the land and allowing visitors to explore safely the southern half.
I returned to Stonehenge 12 days ago and looked at and listened to the constant desecration caused by the non-stop heavy traffic on the A303. I saw where the tunnel entrances are proposed to east and west, well away from the Stones and other key archaeological features and tucked as far as possible into the folds of the landscape. I also saw how the new proposal removes a large and busy traffic roundabout away from the important Winterbourne Stoke burial mounds.
A most recent UNESCO report agrees that there is much to support but design improvements should still be considered to the western end. If permission is granted the National Trust will continue to press to get appropriate improvements. Most importantly, the National Trust will continue to hold Government and National Highways to account to make a scheme that benefits the World Heritage Site now and for future generations.
Please vote AGAINST the resolution.
Comments from members watching on line
Comments from the audience in the room and on line were read out by the Chairman, René Olivieri. No comment, question, nor discussion point from these or from the floor was responded to by the National Trust.
1. Is there a danger of flooding?
2. Are there alternatives? Are there research and briefing papers?
3. The tunnel could cause more damage to archaeology and aquifers. People have a right to see the monument without payment.
4. National Trust must speak out and do the right thing for the Site. Does it know better than UNESCO and five planning inspectors?
5. The Trust is supporting a road through prehistoric landscape. The cuttings are so huge they could even contain the largest Stones. How can this be other than abrogation of its purpose?
6. The A303 is the main road from London to the South West. This stop/go is absurd. It would never be allowed in any other major western country.
Key points from the floor
1. Support Sandy Nairne’s points. Echoes English Heritage’s and Historic England’s position.
2. Good to see the three organisations working together.
3. Plan on the table. It would be damaging to show lack of agreement now.
4. Government might cut infrastructure.
1. NT said this morning “Traffic emissions beyond our control”.
2. This scheme will emit massive emissions just in construction and even more from induced traffic.
3. The car could become extinct in the next 50 years. This is a short period to wait compared to thousands of years of Stonehenge.
1. There are plans for the tunnel which will blight the landscape but no plans for visitors to access or visit Stonehenge.
2. Is the Trust willing to support a breach of covenants?
1. Sandy Nairne committed Trust to continue to ‘improve’ the scheme. This is an admission of compromise.
2. Following the judgment, National Highways submitted an identical scheme as part of ‘redetermination’. Scheme is out of date. Might have been fine 20 years ago, but not now.
3. It is 30 years since the last Stonehenge debate when a long tunnel right across the Site was proposed, agreed by the National Trust. But now have an expensive short tunnel.
4. A lot has changed and in era of climate change, we cannot bury the problem, time for a second debate. The Trust needs to work with us on a solution. Let’s widen the debate beyond members for a more acceptable solution than this one.
1. I am voting against this resolution on two grounds: No alternative to improving the environment has been made.
2. The traffic congestion is horrendous. Again, the proposers are not coming up with solutions to deal with it.
1. That’s not true about alternatives. Stonehenge Alliance have discussed alternatives. We would welcome working with the National trust to look at the alternatives in detail.
2. National Trust supported the original DCO (Development Control Order) that was ruled unlawful by the High Court.
3. The Trust needs to bring its influence to bear in terms of redesign.
4. Everyone needs to be clear: the Trust is supporting a flyover, deep kilometre long cuttings, and disruption to archaeology in a World Heritage Site.
Results are published and discussed in link below.