Thursday, 22 November 2012

Lifting the lid on Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will not come out and tell the world its true position, so we thought we’d do it for them.
Consider this...

The Trust has consistently said it is against development on the land it owns behind Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Shottery, Stratford.
The Trust now says it is waiting for the outcome of the legal process at the High Court to be followed by Stratford District Council in an attempt to overturn the Secretary of State’s decision to allow the housing development to take place.

Whether Stratford District Council wins or loses the High Court case, it will still be up to Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State, to make the final decision.

If his final decision is to stop the development, the Trust will be vindicated in its consistent statement opposing development without having to lift a finger or spend a pound. All the work will have been done and the money spent by Stratford District Council (£300K to date) and organisations like RASE (Residents Against Shottery Expansion – thousands to date, over 20 years) and Save Shottery (two self-employed people who cannot earn any money while fighting this).
If Pickles’ final decision is to progress the development, the Trust has the choice of selling the land willingly (for more money), or unwillingly via a Compulsory Purchase Order (probably for less money). In either case, the Trust can say that its hands are tied and, given the situation, it is better to sell for more money. Then, the development will go ahead and there will be some harm to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (as the Public Inquiry and Secretary of State acknowledged). But the Trust will get lots of money for the land and probably a new car park and visitor centre.  Anne Hathaway’s ‘romantic’ environment will have been altered forever, but, hey, it isn’t the Trust’s fault, is it? In which case, the public can only mourn the loss and feel sorry for the Trust.

Win-Win, thinks the Trust                                                                                                                            Either way, the Trust thinks it will win from this situation – as long as it sits tight, does nothing and says even less. However, last week proved that the Trust did not enjoy being in the spotlight, when it thought that Stratford District Council was going to take all the flak. Now, the Trust sits under the same glare as the Council, the developers and the Secretary of State. It knows it cannot escape.
What would you do in its position? Its latest statement claims that ‘Trustees have a legal responsibility to act in the best interestsof the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’. But the Trust is governed by a UK Act of Parliament known as the 1961 Shakespeare Birthplace Act. This means that it ‘owns’ the Shakespeare houses in trust for the nation. Doing what’s best for Shakespeare Birthplace Trust means doing what’s best for the nation. Taking developers’ money to build a car park and get a better visitor centre is pure heresy, given that damage will be done to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and garden by selling the land to developers.

This is a charitable Trust with £21 million of reserves. It has a rolling annual income of about £8 million. Why does it need to sell land? Just what is going on here behind the scenes? Both the Charity Commission and the UK Government need to take a long hard look at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, how it is governed and why it thinks it can act with impunity, by ignoring the wishes of local and national citizens, never mind the tourists of international countries who bring in that income.

There are some huge aspects to be investigated. Is this a dereliction of duty under the 1961 Act? Can a Trust governed by Act of Parliament be so secretive and deny the public access to its Board Meeting minutes? Isn’t it in the British public interest for citizens to know what the Trust is about and why it is not coming out against the Merchants of Venice?
End game
We have said all along that the Trust should come out of its defensive shell and say no to developers up front. It may lose a few millions by doing so, but will gain much in local, national and international kudos and support for doing the job it was invested with.

Having come out, the Trust should then work with local organisations - Stratford District Council, RASE, Nadhim Zahawi MP and Save Shottery - to present a united case in the upcoming High Court case and say No to Pickles, Yes to Preserves.
Hiding behind twice-yearly Trustee gatherings (many do not even turn up) and irregular executive committee meetings, while apparently waiting for legal advice, is no longer any good to anyone who believes in preserving Shakespeare’s legacy. The Trust employs these lawyers – get them to work faster.

We know what the Trust is up to. It may well get what it wants in the end. But Save Shottery wants the world to know what the Trust is up to. We would like the world to tell the Trust what you think of this selfish and short-term policy to benefit its bank balance to the detriment of its true duty to the world – to preserve the legacy of Shakespeare, his life and times.
We must not let the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust escape the spotlight. Win or lose, we must expose the truth.

No comments:

Post a Comment