Trust's pounds 210m bill to save our heritage

Charity in crisis: Tea rooms may be booming and membership rising, but tax cuts and falling legacies have eroded income
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The Independent Online
The National Trust warned yesterday that it faces an uphill struggle in trying to maintain the great houses in its care. More than pounds 210m is needed to halt the natural deterioration of its most fragile properties.

Three houses alone need pounds 40m to be spent on major renovation - Knole, in Kent, which was appropriated by Henry VIII; Petworth, West Sussex, famous for having been painted by Turner; and Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, where 400-year-old tapestries the size of several tennis courts are beginning

to crack.

With income from legacies falling, Charles Nunneley, chairman of the Trust, appealed to the Government to allow the distributors of lottery money more flexibility to support restoration projects as well as new acquisitions.

Mr Nunneley was speaking at the publication of the charity's 1995-96 report and accounts, together with the resolutions that are to be debated at the annual meeting in November.

Recent AGMs have been dominated by demands for an end to hunting on Trust land. This year, animal welfare campaigners within the Trust switched their attention to cattle markets, with an attempt to prevent the charity's hundreds of tenant farmers from sending animals to livestock markets. The Trust owns 141,835 hectares of farmland and lets 685 farm tenancies.

A resolution from members, some of whom also belong to the group Compassion in World Farming, calls on the Trust's council to ensure that all farm animals under its control are "spared the rigours of livestock markets".

It paints a lurid picture of baby calves, exhausted breeding ewes and stressed pigs being kicked and beaten by "often poorly-trained drovers". "On stone floors slick with urine and excrement, the animals spend hours awaiting their fate."

The Trust's council will oppose the resolution, arguing that there are no satisfactory alternatives to markets. In an accompanying statement, the council points out that since 1995 all new tenancies have included a clause requiring farmers not to treat livestock "in a manner likely to cause unnecessary pain or distress".

But the biggest headache for the Trust is financial. Mr Nunneley said he feared that the record results achieved in the Trust's centenary year were "something of a blip". Tea shops were booming and more than 11.6 million people had paid to visit Trust properties, increasing the revenue surplus from pounds 3.7m to pounds 5.3m, he said. But income from legacies - down from pounds 24.6m in 1994 to pounds 20.4m - and in government support for essential work through English Heritage and the countryside agencies, had fallen.

Changes in personal taxation have also hit membership income, the Trust's largest source of revenue. A 1p cut in the standard rate of income tax costs pounds 360,000 in lost income.

"Wealthy though we may appear, we are in serious and continuing need of funds," Mr Nunneley said.

Among new sources of income to be explored is an agency to market the Trust's expertise in renovating and maintaining old properties.