The crucial vote centres on a field behind Anne Hathaway’s Cottage known as Briar Furlong, which was bought by the trust in the early 1950s for the very purpose of protecting the world-famous building against future development.
But now the land is needed by developers Bloor Homes and Hallam Land Management for the construction of a relief road as part of the scheme for 800 homes on the edge of Shottery.
For the past six years the trust has been opposed to the huge housing scheme and it, officially, still is — along with the vast majority of Stratford-upon-Avon residents.
But it is having to come to terms with the fact that the Planning Inspectorate, the coalition government and the High Court overrode local opinion, including a unanimous rejection of the scheme by members of Stratford District Council’s west area planning committee, and sanctioned the project.
The trust now finds itself between a rock and a hard place. It can stick to its guns and refuse to sell the land — and forego a substantial injection of cash from the developers — or it can sell it and provoke savage criticism from local people.
The timing of the vote, which will take place on Saturday, 3rd October, is clearly linked to the developers’ need to submit more detailed proposals for their scheme, including the proposed road, towards the end of next month.
Accompanying the trust’s announcement of the 3rd October ballot, its chairman Peter Kyle referred to the body’s continued opposition to the housing scheme and link road.
But he added: “We now have to deal with the consequences of decisions made by others.
“Our job is to get the best outcome in line with our duty to protect and enhance the Shakespeare legacy which is in our care, including the five Shakespeare family homes, the internationally-renowned museum and archive collections, and our education programmes.
“We appreciate that the developers’ proposals have provoked strong views — for and against the scheme — particularly locally. The trustees hope that everyone understands that whatever decision is taken it will be with the benefit of expert professional advice after a thorough examination of all the facts, and mindful of the trustees’ responsibility to secure the best outcome for our charity and the future of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.”
Martyn Luscombe, chairman of RASE (Residents Against Shottery Expansion) told the Herald he believed that the basis for the decision to be made by the trustees and the number of votes cast for and against should be made public.
“In particular, if they decide to ignore aspects of legal advice that we provided for them, then it seems incumbent upon them to provide details of the contrary advice which they have decided to accept,” said Mr Luscombe.
But one long-term critic of the trust, Jean Cholerton, said she was disgusted by the decision to hold a secret ballot.
She told the Herald: “This cloak of secrecy afforded to the trustees smacks of cowardice at every level and simply creates distrust.
“This is, after all, a most important national — indeed international — decision, affecting not only the future of the quality of life around Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, but what is the high quality of experience that creates the special memory to visitors who return to this peaceful location.”
She added: “Of course this decision has not yet been made but I, along with others, can only beg them to reconsider and not sell Briar Furlong.”
On the subject of the secret ballot a spokeswoman for the trust said: “An anonymous ballot is part of this country’s democratic process and that is why we have appointed Electoral Reform Services to oversee the vote.
“An anonymous ballot is used for electing members of parliament, local councillors, party leaders and governments and it is the right process for this very important decision.”
The trustees who will be making the decision:
Ex-officio trustees: The headmaster of King Edward VI School, Bennet Carr; the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth; the High Steward of Stratford-upon-Avon, (Vacant); the Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire, Tim Cox; the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Rev Patrick Taylor; the Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon, Cllr Tessa Bates.
Representative trustees: British Library, Caroline Brazier; English Speaking Union, Peter Kyle OBE (chairman); National Trust, Margaret Cund; Royal Shakespeare Company, Catherine Mallyon; Shakespeare’s Globe, Neil Constable; University of Birmingham, Professor Michael Dobson; University of Cambridge, Prof Helen Cooper; University of London, Prof René Weis; University of Oxford, Prof Tiffany Stern; University of Warwick, Prof Carol Chillington Rutter; Visit England, Penelope, Viscountess Cobham.
Up to 12 life trustees appointed by the trustees: Sir Eric Anderson; Sir Geoffrey Cass; Dame Margaret Drabble; Richard Hyde; Helen Keays; Professor Kate McLuskie; Peter Nicholls; Dr Roger Pringle; Neville Tarratt; Professor Stanley Wells; Michael Wood. Up to five local trustees appointed by the trustees: Nick Abell; A P Bird OBE; Ros Haigh; John Russell (deputy chairman); Ralph Bernard CBE.