Our response to concerns over Modern Ground Rents

The Trust grants many leases of houses to tenants up and down the country. Among these are leasehold tenants who bought their homes under ‘long leases’ which originally lasted for more than 21 years. Under the terms of the Leasehold Reform Act, long leasehold tenants have the right to extend their leases by up to 50 years in return for a payment of a higher, Modern Ground Rent.

The Trust has discovered that some long leasehold tenants were not aware of the way in which Modern Ground Rents work and had not been properly advised by their solicitors or valuers when they bought their properties. So those tenants have understandably been taken by surprise by the higher level of rent charged and we are working with them to find a fair solution.

Government legislation determines how modern ground rent is calculated and is based on the current value of the land, which will have increased significantly since the tenants originally bought their leases.

We have around 300 leaseholders who may be affected by modern ground rent, and are in discussions with those who have approached us in order to agree a solution.

We have listened to the concerns of leaseholders who were affected and have agreed in the relevant cases that it is fair to share the financial impact and have reduced the Modern Ground Rents by 50%. As a charity, in order to be able to make a reduction in the modern ground rent, we had to apply for permission to the Charity Commission which they granted.

We know that some leaseholders feel they have been misled as to the impact of modern ground rent and we take those concerns very seriously. If we are satisfied that that has happened then we will consider foregoing modern ground rent altogether, which we have already done in one case.

We are very aware of how distressing it has been for some of our tenants who discovered they would have to pay much more to live in their homes and we are continuing to work with them and the tenant representatives to reach an agreement.

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Updated media statement on Felbrigg badges

The National Trust was established “for the benefit of the Nation” and we passionately believe our purpose is to make everyone feel welcome at our places, as our founders would have wanted.

We are using the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality as an opportunity to tell the stories of the people at some of our places, whose personal lives were outside the social norms of their time.

We hugely value our volunteers and many across the country have taken the opportunity to get involved in developing our Prejudice and Pride programme, which explores LGBTQ heritage.

At Felbrigg, many volunteers have enthusiastically supported a new exhibition, which looks at the life of the extraordinarily generous Robert Ketton–Cremer.  His decision to leave the house to the Trust was the result in part of the fact that he had never married and had no heirs.

We asked all our staff and volunteers at the house to wear rainbow lanyards or badges during the six-week event as welcoming symbol to all our visitors.  We remain absolutely committed to our Pride programme, which will continue as intended, along with the exhibition at Felbrigg.

However, we are aware that some volunteers had conflicting, personal opinions about wearing the rainbow lanyards and badges. That was never our intention.

We are therefore making it clear to volunteers that the wearing of the badge is optional and a personal decision.  We will be speaking to all our volunteers at Felbrigg over the coming days about this issue.

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Heritage partners respond to report on proposed Stonehenge tunnel

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and its heritage advisors ICOMOS International, have published a report on the Government’s developing plans for a major upgrade of the A303 which cuts across the Stonehenge World Heritage Site (WHS).

 The early plans, which went to a first round of public consultation earlier this year, include proposals for the construction of a tunnel of at least 2.9km in order to remove much of the damaging A303 from the WHS.

 In a joint statement, the National Trust, English Heritage and Historic England said:  

“We’re disappointed that the ICOMOS report largely ignores both the benefits of removing a large stretch of the A303 and the danger of doing nothing at all.  

“The A303 cuts through the heart of the Stonehenge world heritage site, splitting it in two and causing damage to this ancient landscape, pollution and delays for thousands caught up in the traffic jams that have blighted the area for decades. With traffic set to increase, maintaining the status quo is not an option for anyone who cares about the heritage and history of this unique site.  

“We believe that if well-designed and sited with the utmost care for the surrounding archaeology and chalk grassland landscape, the tunnel proposal presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide a setting worthy of some of the nation’s most important ancient monuments and will bring huge benefits in terms of public access, nature conservation and protecting the nation’s heritage. 

“The report rightly points out that further work is needed on the proposals. Our three organisations are champions for this remarkable site and we want to reach the best possible outcome for it. We have challenged aspects of the scheme which we have concerns about and we have called for the proposed routes at the last consultation to be significantly improved. We also recognise there are others in the heritage community who could make a valuable contribution and welcome the recommendation of setting up a scientific committee as soon as possible to bring this expertise together.

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The National Trust names new Director of Curation and Experience

The National Trust has appointed John Orna-Ornstein as its first Director of Curation and Experience.

John will join the conservation charity from Arts Council England, where he has been the national Director of Museums and regional director for arts and culture in the East of England.

During that time, he has played a key role in funding, developing and advocating for England’s regional museums at a time of huge pressure on their public funding.

He spent his early career as a curator in the British Museum’s department of coins and medals, going on to lead the museum’s programme of national work and its community partnerships across London.

John will join the Trust in June and will lead the delivery of one of the charity’s key strategic aims – to provide experiences for its visitors that ‘move, teach and inspire’ across its many built and outdoor places.

He will have specific responsibility for leading the curatorial and visitor experience strategies at the Trust, which welcomed a record numbers of people to its houses, countryside and coastline last year.

Helen Ghosh, the Trust’s Director General, said: “John’s career is an impressive blend of curation, public engagement and arts experience, both at a hands-on and strategic level, making him the outstanding candidate for this key role.

“It’s an exciting time for John to be joining our charity. We’re doubling the number of curators we employ – from 36 to around 65 full time staff over the next two years.  These changes mean that the Trust is committed to investing more in curatorial excellence than at any time in its history.”

Commenting on his appointment, John said: “The National Trust cares for many of my favourite places as well as some extraordinary collections.

“I’m enormously excited to have the opportunity to work with the Trust in bringing those places and collections to life, and making sure they are relevant to the widest possible range of people across the UK.

“As I leave Arts Council England I’m proud of what it is achieving, and particularly of the new funding and support it is making available to museums. I’ll look forward to exploring new opportunities for the Trust to collaborate with artists, creative organisations and museums.”

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Thorneythwaite Farm QAs

The National Trust has received a number of questions relating to the purchase of land at Thorneythwaite, in the Lake District.

Below, we have provided answers to the most common queries to try and help people understand our approach.

Why did the Trust want to buy the land at Thorneythwaite? 

The land at Thorneythwaite was split into two plots by the auctioneers: the farm land and a farm house. The Trust used its charitable funds to bid for the land rather than the building.

This was a once in a generation opportunity to secure this beautiful landscape for the nation.

We are passionate about conserving the beauty and uniqueness of the Lake District. We bid for this land because it offers such amazing places for wildlife including woodland featuring veteran trees, riverside fields, open craggy fell and wood pasture. It is home to a wealth of important wildlife including redstarts and pied flycatchers.

We believe we can look after this land in way which benefits nature, our visitors and the local community. Managing much of the surrounding land in Borrowdale means we can take a ‘big picture’ view of how we manage the wider landscape, and it allows us to focus on delivering healthy soil, natural water management, thriving natural habitats and continued public access.

We will also explore how we may be able to use the farm to slow the flow of the Upper River Derwent, thereby contributing to the prevention of flooding downstream in communities such as Keswick and Cockermouth.

What does the sale mean for the future of Herdwick farming and why has a working farm been broken up?

The Trust has a long history of, and is committed to the tradition of Herdwick farming. We have an existing stock of 21,000 Herdwicks and own 90 farms in the Lake District, 54 of which are fell farms.

The Trust did not break up the farm. The private owners decided to sell the land in two separate plots – thereby splitting the land and the farm. The Trust used its charitable funds to bid for the land rather than the building. We did not have the funds to buy both lots and prioritised the 300 acres of land.

There was still an opportunity for someone to purchase both parcels together after we had bid for the land.

The land will be managed by a tenant, and we have already had several expressions of interest. It will be farmed with nature in mind but it will continue to support a flock of Herdwick sheep.

We understand some people believe we should also have bought the farm house and continued to manage the land in the same way. However, given our limited funds, we believe that this was the right approach and we’re pleased to have secured the land for the nation.

Why put in a bid of £950,000 – when the guide price was £750,000?

The guide price was £750,000 for the land. This is where the auction process gets quite complex.

The private owner decided to spilt the land and the farm into two separate lots for sale to maximise the value. The Trust had no influence over the vendor’s decision to do this i.e (the farm was split up by the vendor not the Trust).

The guide price for both was around £1.55m, although they were marketed as two individual lots: with a guide price of £750,000 for the land and £800,000 for the farm and buildings.

Despite being sold as two separate lots, the auctioneer also reserved the right to package both together at the end of process – once all the bids were in – to ensure they achieved the highest price possible (i.e. bids were not binding until this final stage where they could all be effectively gazumped).

That meant that even if the Trust was the highest bidder for the land – it would face the risk of losing it if the auctioneer decided to package the two together for a price it could not afford.

The £950,000 bid was therefore a calculation based on how much the Trust would need to offer to secure the land and minimise the risk of losing out if the two lots were sold together.

In making our bid we were also guided by the independent valuation, which was much higher than the asking price. This took into account the internationally important conservation features of the land; it offers a rich and diverse mosaic of habitats including woodland featuring veteran trees, riverside fields, open craggy fell and wood pasture; home to a wealth of important wildlife.

The Trust did not have the funds to buy both the farm and the land.

What will happen to the flock of sheep on the land?

The land acquired does not become ours until 14 October 2016. The land purchase included a flock of sheep, and they are currently still the responsibility of the Lodore Estate and their current tenant.

After the 14 October, the sheep will be owned by the National Trust. We are currently talking to a number of National Trust agricultural tenants from the Borrowdale valley, following a number of expressions of interest to help us manage the land and the flock of sheep. It will continue to support a flock of Herdwick sheep.

Where are the tenants supposed to live?  

There is no existing tenant at Thorneythwaite Farm, so no-one is being displaced as part of this sale. The Trust is currently discussing management arrangements with a number of National Trust agricultural tenants from within the Borrowdale valley, following a number of expressions of interest to help us manage the land.

What would Beatrix Potter think? 

The Trust believes in the upholding the cultural legacy of the pastoral landscape and share Beatrix Potter’s love and passion for the Lake District.

However, we also recognise that world has changed, and will keep on changing. The way we maintain those traditions must therefore also change and adapt with it.

 

National Trust statement on releasing land for housing

We are not against development in principle, to the contrary we are for good development. We have always supported good quality housing built in the right place as identified in local plans and which meets our planning principles.

Working with the local planning system to make good choices for the location and design of development is absolutely essential. That is why we want to ensure the planning system is well resourced and effective – so that everyone benefits.

When we very occasionally release land for development we aim to use it as an opportunity to showcase what good housing can look like.

We only sell land for development when we are completely satisfied that any proposed scheme passes a rigorous set of design and environmental standards we apply as part of our decision-making process. The proposed development at Pyrland north of Taunton is a good example of this.

On our land at Pyrland, we propose to set aside a large proportion of green space for the residents of the new homes and those already living nearby. Proposals include footpaths, cycleways, community allotments, orchards and conservation areas. We are also proposing that the historic parkland landscape at Pyrland is restored and made accessible to the public for the first time.

The land at Pyrland was left to the Trust by John Adams who gave it at the same time that he gave us Fyne Court. It was his wish that we would sell this land to raise funds to look after Fyne Court and other special places in our care in Somerset. As always, we have ensured that the sale and development of the land complies with the wishes of the donor who gave it to us.

The vast majority of our land is held forever, for everyone. Housing development takes place on only a tiny fraction of our land.  Less than 0.01% is currently allocated for housing in local plans and proposed for development by the Trust. The proceeds from this goes straight back into our conservation work.

 

 

Trust welcomes record numbers of visitors

We welcomed record numbers of visitors to our houses and gardens last year (21m), up 4% on the previous year. An estimated 200m visits were also made to our countryside and coast locations. Interest remains as high as ever.

Our latest membership scores also show satisfaction is at an all-time high. And our membership has grown to over 4.2m members.

The overall proportion of visitors rating their experience of the Trust as either ‘enjoyable’ or ‘very enjoyable is 96%. This reflects very high levels of satisfaction and is broadly in line with previous years.

The picture is very positive and we’re proud more people than ever before are visiting our special places and supporting our charity.

But we recognise there is always room for improvement. We’re not complacent and as we outlined in our 10-year strategy earlier this year we know we need to do even more to engage with people and make our places relevant and inspiring to them.

The proportion of people rating their experience as ‘very enjoyable’ has fallen slightly to 60%, which is below the stretching target we set ourselves.

We believe there are a number of reasons for the fall.  We have developed a new system whereby members can provide feedback online . This has nearly doubled the number of visitor surveys we collect (some 170,000) so we now have a much more accurate picture than we have ever had before and know where we need to improve.

At peak times properties can get busy and this can have an impact on attaining the very highest enjoyment scores.

People’s tastes are changing and their expectations continue to grow. We’ll work harder to give our visitors experiences that are emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating and inspire them to support our cause. We will invest in major changes at our most visited houses to transform how we tell the story of why they matter.

We’re not standing still. Many properties are already finding new and imaginative ways to refresh their offer, and where we get it right the results have been spectacular both in terms of visitor numbers and enjoyment scores.

Our recreation of a First World War hospital at Dunham Massey made it to the final of this year’s Museum of the Year; our Mr.Turner exhibition at Petworth was a huge hit, and Fan Bay tunnels in Dover have consistently sold out of tickets every day since it opened earlier this year.

And we’re continuing to challenge perceptions and stir up debate, most recently on brutalist architecture.