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

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.”

China: Reflections on Growth and Heritage

Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation

Last year I had the privilege of visiting China as a guest of the British Council. Looking back now, the overwhelming impression is one of scale. Everything is enormous. Suzhou Railway Station would dwarf most international airports. Construction is happening everywhere. And in large proportions.

During the 1½ hour drive between Shanghai and the water towns, there was little that could be called countryside. Just acres of urban sprawl. Meals are delicious but copious and never ending. Consumption generally seems large and a hunger for global brands prevails. The Shanghai Metro Stations offer a vast subterranean world of shopping (and confusion between myriad exits!). Blocks that appear a short hop on the map turn out to be a major hike.

Marie Georges explaining Rempart site

Marie Georges explaining Rempart site

Despite this powerful sense of an unstoppable juggernaut of growth – that, to quote Dr Zeus’s Lorax, just keeps ‘biggering and biggering and biggering’, there was much to encourage the heritage professional.

The places we visited, especially Zhouzhuang and to a lesser extent Tongli, Suzhou and Pingyao, were busy with tourists. Mostly Chinese people and many on what appeared to be organised group tours. There is a palpable need to ‘see’ places which has of course impacted on quality of visit/sense of place. Zhouzhuang was particularly busy, with infrastructure bursting to capacity.

The local heritage professionals we met understood that this kind of intense tourism was not sustainable and were eager to share experience. I was surprised by the openness of those we met, who happily voiced challenges and shortcomings, such as an undue focus on economic development, poor enforcement/lack of regulation, failures in urban planning and limited funding.

The mayor explaining to group

The mayor explaining to group

The invitation to Shanghai came about as part of the British Council’s UK Now Festival, which is marking the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

The aim was to share experience in the field of cultural heritage, to show how National Trusts are balancing tourism, economic growth and environmental issues, and to discuss best practice in heritage education and youth engagement.

Understandably, finding the right balance between economic development and heritage protection was high on everyone’s agenda.

Clearing historic buildings to make way for high rises, mindlessly following the European style of architecture and building fake reproductions/inventions (such as city walls that never existed) were also of concern to all.

The water towns are cited as a success story for the way historic buildings (and therefore in many people’s eyes, creativity, tolerance and inclusiveness) have been preserved.

Our Chinese colleagues were very interested in hearing more about how to ensure good (planning) decisions are made, how public and private funding streams work (and how to make more of a case for the latter), volunteerism and the CSR agenda, and successful education and training programmes.

In Tongli we learned that 20% of the entrance ticket price (100 RMB, circa £10) was spent on heritage protection with tourism providing 50% of GDP. The importance of water means that environmental issues and eco-tourism are also coming up the agenda. As in many places, striking the right balance between quality of life for the local community and providing an authentic tourist experience is challenging.

The way our hosts talked about understanding visitor needs, letting people ‘feel the quiet’, providing a quality product, protecting the rights of local people, profit sharing and the need for innovation felt very comfortable (if not massively in evidence) and I think there is much that we could share in the future.

Later in the year INTO, the British Council, the Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation and the National Trust cooperated on a working holiday programme in Tongli where young professionals worked with local craftsmen on the restoration of a turn of the century cottage hospital. Further working holidays are planned in 2013 and we look forward to future collaboration!

National Trust bitterly disappointed at court ruling on Giant’s Causeway development

We’ve posted previously on our legal challenge to a decision to grant planing permission for a golf course development in the setting of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site. Today the High Court ruled against our challenge.

A National Trust spokesman said:

“The National Trust is bitterly disappointed by the Court’s ruling and we remain convinced that a massive development in the setting of this World Heritage Site is wrong.

“We still believe that if a development of this scale does go ahead in this location, the message is that nowhere in Northern Ireland, no matter how important or protected, is safe from development.

“The ruling today has served to highlight aspects of very serious concern for those partners involved in the care and protection of the World Heritage Site.

“It is essential that we work together to get planning policy right in Northern Ireland to ensure that appropriate development can happen, but not at the expense of our beautiful landscapes and historic places. 

“There are also significant issues regarding the relationship between Government in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and UNESCO that must be addressed to ensure the protection of our World Heritage Site for the long term.”


National Trust comment on garden cities call

Commenting on the call by Nick Clegg MP, Deputy Prime Minister, to build new garden cities, Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director at the National Trust, said:

“We are strong supporters of the local planning system, so when the Deputy Prime Minister voices his support for large scale new development we welcome his commitment to ensuring that decisions will be locally-led.  

“Nevertheless, the major challenge for Government will be to find the sites that have local support, are in the right location and on the right sort of land for this kind of development.

“The National Trust believes that land is a precious resource and must be used and managed sustainably to produce the greatest public benefit.

“As a nation we must be careful to safeguard the productive capability of land for future generations across a range of areas: water, carbon, soils, biodiversity, development, recreation, culture and heritage, food.

“Any development on this kind of scale will need to respect this fact if it is to deliver the kinds of benefits Mr Clegg talks about, without destroying the countryside.

“We welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s commitment to mixed use developments which support integrated transport infrastructure and urban green space, and built to the highest energy conservation standards. This should be the level of commitment we seek to achieve within all our towns, cities and villages too.

“Like everyone with an interest in this area, we will look at the promised prospectus carefully when it’s published.”