The National Trust is “compromising its reputation” with its support for a controversial tunnel cutting through the sacred Stonehenge site on a “brutal scale”, members have warned.
The embattled charity is accused of giving its blessing to a plan that will “inject enormous amounts of concrete into the most significant prehistoric landscape if not in Britain, in the whole of Europe”.
It is facing a rebellion from members, who are demanding that it rethink its position on the proposal to upgrade the clogged A303 and have accused it of prioritising Government criteria such as value-for-money and deliverability, which have no relevance to the Trust or its aims.
Debate over plans to reassign the notoriously busy route that links London with the South West have rumbled on for more than two decades, hampered by opposition from the environmental and archeological lobbies and the astronomical cost.Traffic passes along the busy A303 that runs besides the ancient neolithic monument of Stonehenge Credit: Matt Cardy/ Getty Images Europe
The current £1.4 billion plan, expected to be rubber stamped by Highways England within the next few weeks, involves transforming the road into a dual carriageway, with a 1.8mile tunnel dug through the 3.4mile-wide Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
Both the National Trust, which owns land around the site, and English Heritage, which manages the monument, have cautiously backed the proposal, arguing that the current situation cannot continue, as the existing A303 “blights” the site and impacts more than 50 monuments. It believes the tunnel, if well-located and designed, will provide environmental benefits, enable wildlife to flourish and the monuments to be protected.
It has argued that the tunnel presents “a once in-a- generation opportunity to to provide a setting worthy of some of the nation's most important ancient monuments.”
But more than 50 members warn in a motion to be debated at next month’s AGM, that the expanded road would draw significantly more traffic onto the site, “blight currently tranquil areas with noise and light pollution” and “intrude” on the sacred setting.Traffic on the A303 passing Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain Credit: Chris Ison/PA
Signatories include Tom Holland, the historian and radio presenter, who accused the National Trust of ignoring the impact of the tunnel on the broader Stonehenge landscape. , and Kate Fielden, vice-chairwoman of the British Archaeological Trust and a member of the anti-tunnel campaign group, the Stonehenge Alliance.
Ms Fielden told the Telegraph: “As members of the National Trust our hope is to somehow persuade the Trust to change its mind.
"We think the Trust should be going for the very best for a World Heritage Site, sticking to its basic principles and seeking a better solution.”
She said there was an argument for leaving the road alone as there may be far fewer vehicles in 40 years time, noting too the cost of the project and that the heavy traffic was intermittent and tended to be confined to weekends and peak holiday times.
The road tunnel has been condemned by Unesco, the agency that oversees world heritage sites, which has urged the government to build a bypass instead and questionned the position of the National Trust.
The row over Stonehenge is the latest in a series of controversies to hit the 122 year-old guardian of the nation’s heritage.
It has faced claims of profiteering after hundreds of tenants were told they faced ground rent increases of up to 10,000 per cent. It was also forced into an embarrassing U-turn after banning volunteers at one of its stately homes from meeting the public if they refused to wear rainbow badges celebrating gay history.
The Trust’s forthcoming AGM is already set to be one of the stormiest for some time after 50 members of the trust endorsed a motion to ban trail hunting on its land, threatening division between its urban and rural membership.