Beleaguered villagers, who thought they had managed to prevent the National Trust from ‘ruining their tranquility’ by allowing a local manor house to open on Sundays, are facing a fresh fight to protect their charming rural idyll. Last year, the residents of Chastleton, a tiny village in Oxfordshire, thought they’d won the battle to stop the Trust opening Chastleton House, a near-perfect example of Jacobean architecture, on the Sabbath, and they’d be able to enjoy a respite from the growing number of visitors-and cars-that the property attracts.
Following ‘an uproar’ from esidents of the sleepy village in the Cotswold Hills, near Moreton-in- Marsh, the Trust applied to West Oxfordshire Council for a ‘certificate of lawfulness’ to rubber stamp its plans for the manor. However, residents say that, when it became clear that the council was about to reject Trust’s application, it withdrew legal proceedings at the 11th hour. ‘It’s a long and tortuous story,’ admits councilor Garry Jones. ‘When the house was deeded over to the Trust [in 1991], it agreed Chastleton was precious and fragile and that it needed to maintain the charm and innocence of the place.’
Previously, residents enjoyed a ‘symbiotic, reciprocal’ rapport with the Trust-even holding the village fête in the grounds of the house -but, in the past two-to-three years, relations have soured. ‘First, the Trust increased the length of the opening season; after that, visitor numbers went up [from 24,000 in 2011 to 37,000 last year]; and then, suddenly, without warning, it started opening the property on Sundays,’ explains Mr Jones, adding: ‘It’s made life hell for everybody.’
Fellow villager Christopher Leach concurs: ‘You can go out for a walk and find yourself in a traffic jam of cars.’ Road verges have been chewed up ‘and farmers have gone spare as they can’t get their tractors up the busy lanes’. ‘There are people wandering everywhere, peering into gardens,’ laments Mr Leach.
Now that the Trust has made a second application for a certificate of lawfulness, residents have submitted a new objection statement. ‘Someone needs to take a stand,’ asserts Mr Jones. ‘The village has no objection to the house being open to the public-we just don’t want the Trust to commercialise it to the extent that it destroys Chastleton and its surroundings.’
The National Trust’s Fliss Coombs says the charity began opening Chastleton House on Sunday afternoons as part of moves to ‘make it easier for people to visit and enjoy the places we look after’. She confirms: ‘We are continuing to open Chastleton on a Sunday while applying for a Certificate of Lawfulness to regularise the planning situation. This is a very fragile house in a rural setting, so we carefully control the number of visitors to the house and road signs direct traffic to the car park without going through the village. We understand local people are keen to protect the tranquillity of their surroundings and we work hard to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy these special places without spoiling the environment that makes them unique.’
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