Summary of National Trust evidence on NPPF to DCLG Select Committee

In many places, the NPPF is not yet leading to plan-led development. Only 54% of Local Planning Authorities have a Local Plan, and the Local Plan adoption rate has slowed since the new Planning Framework was adopted.

Planning balances the interests of the nation as a community with those of individuals – and Local Plans should be at the heart of the planning system. Without a Local Plan, or with an out of date plan, it seems that communities are at risk from speculative development mainly due the five year land supply rules.

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National Trust response to Efra Committee’s winter flood report

We’re disappointed that this report overlooks the valuable contribution that natural processes can make to reducing flood risk.

We know from this experience that policy and funding should work with natural forces to slow water down, and use land upstream as a sponge to retain water. As we pointed out to the Committee, managing water ‘from source to sea’ in this way helps to avoid flood risks to communities downstream, in a cost effective way. Maintenance of flood defences and watercourses will always be a part of the solution, but we regret that the Committee has not considered the fuller picture of how flood risk for rural communities can be managed effectively.

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National Trust responds to Government initiatives to help build more new homes on brownfield land

Ingrid Samuel, National Trust historic environment director, said:

“We have called for state investment to get difficult brownfield sites ready for development, and so we welcome moves in this direction from Government – and the clear recognition from the Chancellor of the need to protect valued countryside. There are many sites in urban areas, close to existing jobs and transport links which communities would like to develop ahead of countryside sites though their Local Plans, but developers currently deem them unviable due to additional costs.

“As with any development, care should be taken to ensure new homes on brownfield land respect local heritage and biodiversity, are well designed, with access to green space and good transport links, and that affordability needs are considered. The detail of any proposed changes will need to make sure that local communities, through the planning process, can ensure these needs are properly considered.”

Putting people at the heart of planning – National Trust reaction to Farrell Review

See below for the reaction from the National Trust to the report published today by Sir Terry Farrell (you can read the full report via http://www.farrellreview.co.uk/download):

Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director, said: “Sir Terry’s report is very compelling. We hope it will lead to a new recognition of the importance of beauty and the spirit of a place in new developments, and ensure that fewer inappropriate schemes get the go-ahead.

“It is crucial that, when we are planning new housing and other buildings in a community, we start from an understanding of what people love and value about that place, and ensure any new development is sympathetic to the local context it sits in.

“We hope that many of the Review’s practical solutions will be taken forward by Government, including his call for proactive planning for design, reducing VAT on retrofitting, and appointing design experts at central and local level.”

National Trust – concerns remain around the Lobbying Bill

Yesterday, MPs debated the Lobbying Bill. Although it passed second reading, there were a good number of Parliamentarians who voiced their concerns about Part II of the Bill. Below we note the National Trust’s concerns and our desire for a thorough rethink of Part II of the Bill as it passes through the next stages in Parliament.

The National Trust supports greater transparency but we believe significant changes are needed to achieve an approach which improves transparency and accountability without undermining the positive role that charities play in enabling informed public policy debate. The Government has given verbal reassurances but these need to be backed by material changes if they are to remove uncertainty.

The National Trust has a long pedigree of involvement in public policy. Earlier in our history we worked in partnership with others in calling for the creation of National Parks. This resulted in a the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, a piece of legislation that over the years has protected and promoted access to many of the nation’s most loved landscapes. In the 1930s we promoted changes to allow the acceptance of historic assets in lieu of inheritance tax, which enabled the transfer into public ownership of many places of historic interest and architectural beauty for the enduring enjoyment of all.

More recently the National Trust’s Planning for People petition, calling on the government to think again on their reforms of the planning system, garnered more than 200,000 signatures from concerned members of the public. We also supported calls for a rethink on the future of the public forest estate; challenged the government to be braver in designating Marine Conservation Zones; have been involved in recent judicial reviews around the impacts of planning proposals which we believe have unacceptable detrimental impacts for places in our care; and have been working with others within and beyond the charity sector in promoting more opportunities for children to enjoy the benefits of playing outdoors and in nature.

We do all of the above in pursuit of our duty, described under our various Acts of Parliament, for promoting the permanent preservation of places of natural beauty and historic interest, and want to be confident that we are able to continue to do so.

Analysis by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, backed by legal opinion, shows that the Bill’s imprecision creates too many hostages to fortune. The Electoral Commission, which will have greater regulatory responsibilities under the new legislation, has also openly stated concern about how it will be wide open to interpretation and could impact the work of charities.

This is why we are backing calls by the NCVO for a careful rethink on Part II of the Bill.

A spokesman said: “Whilst we entirely support the intent of greater transparency, the Bill before Parliament is perplexing because it is entirely unclear in defining what is, and what is not, political lobbying.

“Significant changes are needed to ensure that we can be confident in a system which promotes transparency without undermining the positive role that organisations like the National Trust play.

“Charities play an important role in engaging citizens and politicians in informed policy debate around the charitable cause for which they stand. The Government has given verbal reassurances that this wont be undermined, but these reassurances need to be backed by material changes if they are to remove uncertainty from the Bill.”

National Trust welcomes Government decision to retain Environment Agency and Natural England

The National Trust welcomes the Government’s decision to retain the Environment Agency and Natural England as two distinct bodies under an approach that seeks closer working and collaboration between the two.

Avoiding further structural disruptions is welcome at a time when there is so much that needs to be achieved to improve the state of our natural environment.

Yesterday’s additional cuts to Defra’s budgets means that the job for these agencies is all the more challenging – coming at a time when a new CAP deal has just been reached – creating new challenges for our farmed environment – and an array of infrastructure plans and projects are being announced.

Dr Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director for the National Trust said: “We believe that the Government should now strongly recommit to the broad agenda it backed in the publication of the Natural Environment White Paper two years ago, by ensuring that the proposed Environment Agency and Natural England joint delivery plan is grounded in this. We think this should also connect in the management of the public forest estate.

“By working together, we believe that Defra’s agencies can and must create a stronger vision for the future of the nation’s vital environmental infrastructure, from the centre of our cities to the seas around our shores.”

Weekly Witter: Where are Britain’s Bees?

A Buzzless Spring…

Hindsight is useless. Foresight is what’s needed, but it is far easier to prove something retrospectively.  Conservation and technological science need to be forward looking, and to prime future actions.  Furthermore, there’s a jumping off point where science has to prime belief.  That jumping off point is often hard to determine: sometimes we have to jump before we have full scientific certainty, which is where belief becomes important.

“I know that much is wrong with our bees, and that the situation is steadily worsening.”

Much has been said and written about neonicotinoids (‘neonics’) and the plight of bees, hived and wild.  I’d love to say that I fully understand it all, but I don’t; some of the science is beyond me, and some of it seems woolly. Good science is often partial, and there is much inadequate science around (often acting as a stepping stone towards good science).  Yet as an entomologist who has been interested in our native bees for over thirty years and as someone who has been involved in bee keeping on and off since childhood, I know that much is wrong with our bees, and that the situation is steadily worsening.  If there was a single cause we would in theory have got to the bottom of it by now, so I suspect a cocktail, a nasty cocktail.

My wife and I gave up bee keeping circa 2000 when we finally had to accept that we couldn’t keep them in the arable landscape in which we live.  It was unfair on the bees; they kept dying – and not just because of poor weather or Varroa mites, or even inadequate husbandry.  Moreover, we became increasingly aware that bees kept by friends in more suburban environments were faring considerably better.  Much of what our own bees gathered was Oil Seed Rape (OSR), which in my opinion makes revolting honey (and not simply because it sets rock hard).  Since then our local farms have increased their OSR acreage considerably.

“What all parties seem agreed upon is that seriously good research is required urgently – but good science cannot be hurried.”

In 2012 some 490,000ha of OSR (76 per cent of the UK crop) were treated with ‘neonics’, along with some 600,000ha (30 per cent) of wheat (Advisory Committee on Pesticides Data, 2012).  A formal review by the European Foods Standards Agency reported in January that ‘neonics’ pose an unacceptably high risk to bees, and that the industry-sponsored evidential data upon which regulatory agencies have relied may be flawed.  Their review concluded that an acute risk to honey bees is posed by dust drift from the seed treatments used in maize, OSR and cereals, and that a similar high risk is posed by residues in nectar and/or pollen.  In response the European Commission is implementing a temporary ban on some neonicotinoids. This is effectively an evocation of the Precautionary Principle of the Rio Declaration, which states: ‘Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.’

honey_bee North Eastern Photography

Will honey bees soon be a thing of the past?

Whether this will actually help bees remains to be seen.  Crops sown this autumn will not be affected by the moratorium, and two years is a pathetically small window of opportunity – especially as ‘neonics’ can persist in some soils for up to four years.  Furthermore, it is unwise to assume that the alternatives to ‘neonics’ are less damaging, so we urgently need to see guidance provided to farmers and gardeners on practices to use instead.  What all parties seem agreed upon is that seriously good research is required urgently – but good science cannot be hurried.  Meanwhile in Wales there is perhaps some hope in the production of a Pollinator Action Plan (open for consultation until June 4th) which could be usefully extended and developed on a UK-wide basis as our bees don’t respect borders.

Why we are growing all this Oil Seed Rape in the first place is a question only naïve people like me ask…

  • Matthew Oates has worked for the National Trust for over 20 years.  Although passionate about butterflies he is very much an all-round naturalist and is effectively the Trust’s resident naturalist. He works closely with the Trust’s network of ecologists and naturalist rangers throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular weekly mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about the news and what’s on their minds at the moment.