Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Memorandum submitted by the National Trust (GIB 31)

The National Trust  is Europe’s largest conservation body with over 4 million members and an annual turnover of more than £400 million. Established over 115 years ago, our primary statutory purpose is to promote the preservation of special places for the benefit of the nation. [1] To achieve this aim we manage over a quarter of a million hectares of land, more than 700 miles of unspoilt coastline and estuary, several hundred historic houses, gardens and parks, and 6 World Heritage Sites. More than 100 million visits are made every year to the properties in our care.

We are a major business as well as a charity. The NT owns Europe’s largest network of holiday cottages and gift shops, are a large-scale landlord and farming enterprise, and on occasion we also act as a developer, creating visitor facilities, converting buildings for business use, and constructing housing to support our conservation work. We are a major employer and invest in parts of the country that may otherwise be bypassed by normal market forces including a significant presence in 6 out of the 10 most deprived rural areas.

The National Trust supports a strong, effective land use planning system in England. We believe in the fundamental principle that planning exists to serve the public’s present and future interests. It is an essential tool for balancing a variety of land-use interests in the pursuit of an overriding public one.

The NT believes that a robust planning system as the best way to guide good development to the right place, and ensure that poorly designed proposals and those in the wrong location don’t get built. A robust system protects the things that matter to us all, from open spaces, green fields and productive agricultural land to much-loved historic city centres, towns and villages. A strong and effective system also delivers the high-quality new homes, shops and services that communities want, where they want them, helping to support economic growth.

Effective planning should minimise the burdens of bureaucracy, cost and delay, and provide certainty about the ground rules by which decisions are made. But it should ensure freedom within this framework, so that individuals, companies and communities can exercise choice for the long-term in a balanced way.

The National Trust therefore supports an evidence –based, plan-led system as the best means to provide certainty and confidence, and to deliver good development in the right place. We support streamlining the planning system where appropriate to make it easier to participate in, and we support the shift towards a greater local say.

When the Government published the National Planning Policy Framework in March, it emphasised the importance of local plans and local say. The aim of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill is to promote growth, and it makes further changes to the way planning works.   While we recognise the importance of getting the economy moving, the Bill as drafted contains quite a few new centralised powers and it remains far from clear how these will be implemented or that there are sufficient checks and balances in place.

We will be seeking answers to these questions from the Department as the Bill progresses, and keeping a close eye on the situation as it develops, particularly in the case of clauses that might undermine existing protections for special countryside and landscapes.

November 2012

[1] Under section 4 of the National Trust Act 1907 and section 3 of the National Trust 1937

Prepared 22nd November 2012