The National Trust has been condemned for 'selling off the family silver' after proposing nearly 200 homes on the doorstep of one of the world's most famous stately homes.
Campaigners are angry about the trust's plan to build a new village just a quarter of a mile from Cliveden - the former Buckinghamshire home of the Astor family, designed by Sir Charles Barry - and have criticised it for teaming up with a commercial developer.
The £25 million venture between the trust and Countryside Properties will see 120 flats and 80 houses built on the site of a former hospital on the estate.
The ECD Architects-designed homes - part of an Urbed masterplan - will be surrounded by Green Belt land (AJ 7.2.02).
Euan Felton, an architect and chairman of planning for nearby Taplow Parish Council, said Lord Astor gave the site to the trust as part of an endowment, and land could not be sold. But it could be leased for 125 years and that would amount, he added, to the National Trust 'selling off the family silver'.
'Joining forces with a property developer is the antithesis of the trust's purpose because the two are such disparate organisations, ' Felton said. 'The trust doesn't have a vast experience of property development on a large scale, and this calls into question its role as guardian of our national heritage.'
The Victorian Society's Richard Holder, its senior architectural advisor, said the potential impact on a 'major Victorian country house with stunning landscape'was huge.
'It raises all sorts of issues, such as traffic movements.We would want to see the plans.'
He added: 'What precedent will this set?
The trust has always found Cliveden hard to finance, which is why the house is a hotel. If they are building homes to finance that hotel and it doesn't work, will they build more?'
Maureen Dennis, a member of Hitcham & Taplow Preservation Society, warned that the site was too remote and could not support services such as schools.
Cliveden, described by Pevsner as one of Barry's best country houses, was completed in 1851. The hospital was closed in the 1980s.
Stephen Kyle, team leader for planning at South Buckinghamshire Council, said it would gauge opposition to the scheme when a detailed application was submitted later this year.
However, the trust's Tony Burton said this was a common and accepted way of ploughing money back into the charity.