18 Aug, 2009

Prince Charles threatens to quit National Trust

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

• Threat emerged over design of headquarters in Swindon
• Calls for Clarence House to open correspondence with prince

The National Trust was warned that the Prince of Wales might withdraw his patronage of the organisation unless designs for its new headquarters were altered to suit his architectural taste, the Guardian has learned.

A senior royal aide told the trust and its architects that the prince could not accept the design of a proposed £14.5m building in Swindon and said it should be changed or they would face the prospect of his stepping down as its president, according to a source involved in the project at the time.

The warning apparently came from a former private secretary to the prince in a meeting at St James’s Palace shortly after he had taken over the presidency of the charity from the Queen Mother, who died in March 2002. It is understood that soon after he took over, he requested the power of approval over new architectural projects and asked for his advisers to scrutinise plans for the Swindon headquarters.

Clarence House has no minutes of the meeting but said any argument was about the sustainability of the building.

“The prince won’t offer his personal patronage of a building that doesn’t feature the principles of sustainability he personally espouses,” said a spokesman.

The alleged intervention is fresh evidence of the Prince of Wales’s hands-on involvement in architecture and planning in Britain and follows news of his attempt to have the French architect Jean Nouvelremoved from a £500m project beside St Paul’s Cathedral. Nouvel said yesterday the prince had no right to try to persuade his client to adopt a different kind of architecture and said Charles’s preferred “pastiche design” was worse.

Republic, the campaign for an elected head of state, called for Clarence House to open to public scrutiny its files of correspondence from the prince.

“The public have a right to know the full extent of Charles’s meddling,” said spokesman Graham Smith. “We need to know if decisions are being made according to what the public wants and needs or according to what Prince Charles wants.”

The apparent threat over the National Trust’s headquarters came during the early design stages after the prince and his advisers had seen plans that showed a triangular, low-profile structure on the site of a former Victorian engineering foundry.

One of the prince’s architecture advisers had already told the project team that Charles would not like the design. Amid growing frustration from the palace at the trust’s reluctance to redraw the plans, there was a tense meeting at St James’s Palace, attended by Fiona Reynolds, the director general of the National Trust, and Elizabeth Buchanan, then the prince’s private secretary. “The project reached an impasse,” said the source. “There was a meeting at the palace and the aide threatened the withdrawal of his patronage.”

The National Trust later managed to persuade the prince of the scheme’s merits and it was built, with more than 1,000 photovoltaic panels on the roof, but the dispute has shed new light on the methods Charles uses to exert influence over development that he does not like.

Two firms of architects yesterday separately claimed that their bid to design a new building for the Soil Association, whose patron is the Prince of Wales, ended when the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment intervened.

“The Prince’s Foundation let it be known that modernist architects were not what was required for this job,” said Rab Bennetts, director of Bennetts Associates, which failed to make the final shortlist.

“We were told we would not produce a scheme in line with the prince’s architectural aspirations,” said Peter Clegg, a director of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, which also failed to make the final cut, but is now bidding again for the Bristol job which had been put on hold.

A spokeswoman for the Prince’s Foundation said it had no formal role in the Soil Association project.

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