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What’s next for tourism in the UK?

At the end of last year, Deloitte published the findings of a report commissioned by VisitBritain to explore the economic contribution of the UK’s tourism industry.

The findings are remarkable – tourism is currently the UK’s fifth largest industry with a total yearly contribution of £127 billion to the UK’s Gross Domestic Profit (GDP). By 2025, tourism will account for 13.2% of UK jobs or 4.6 million jobs. The economic benefit of overseas visitors to the UK is also set to rocket. Deloitte forecast that the value of inbound tourism will grow from £21 billion in 2013 to £57 billion by 2025.

 The National Trust plays an important role within the UK’s tourist economy. Last year alone, the Trust received 19.2 million visitors, had 3.93 million members, and had a record-breaking 70,494 volunteers. As a result of the revenue raised by tourists visiting National Trust properties, the Trust is able to carry out vital heritage and conservation work. In 2012 to 2013, £51.8 million was spent on property conservation projects. Such major projects include the restoration of the Red Wing at Croome Park in Worcestershire and the re-roofing of Castle Drogo in Devon. In turn, the National Trust actively supports the tourism industry by managing over 300 historic and cultural assets, which are conserved for people to continue to visit and enjoy in the future.

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The south front of the house at Croome Park, Croome D’Abitot, Worcestershire ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

 The Eden Project in Cornwall is a brilliant case study of tourism as a catalyst for the wider regeneration of an area. The Eden Project works in partnership with other Cornish organisations to promote neighbourhood planning, and strives to create local opportunities through its ‘Post-Mining Alliance.’ Further afield, the Project is working with communities in the Seychelles to combat habitat loss and to conserve rare plant species. These activities show that initial tourism-based investment can lead to much wider social, cultural and environmental opportunities.

However, if we only judge the value of tourism in monetary terms we ignore other, often less quantifiable knock-on effects of tourism investment. Tourism and heritage attractions occupy a vital role in education and learning, as well as conserving at-risk sites and environments. Social factors such as visitor enjoyment and satisfaction, local awareness and personal interest, are often what keep visitors coming back to tourist attractions on a regular basis. Being a tourist or traveller can also bring new experiences and contribute to a greater quality of life and sense of well being. For example, the National Trust’s ‘Great British Walk’ festival or ’50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ both aim to encourage participants to get outside and to enjoy the many benefits of the countryside.

Whilst it seems all is well with the UK’s tourism economy for the moment, the Deloitte report does highlight caution for the future. Deloitte’s report shows that it is unclear whether the rise of the UK tourism industry is due solely to the “Olympics factor” or whether this indicates more of a long term trend. The impact of withdrawing investment and funding to the tourism economy too soon could also be significant. In the Government’s 2010 Spending Review, VisitBritain and VisitEngland’s budget was reduced by 34% by 2014/15. Deloitte found that the most popular attractions are plagued by poor infrastructure, and inadequate educational and visitor facilities. Continued investment is needed to maintain a competitive edge (for example, the new National Trust visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway).

Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. ©National Trust Images/Marie-Louise Halpenny

The tourism economy is also at the mercy of unavoidable and unpredictable events. Events such as the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 and the heavy flooding of recent years inevitably effect tourism. This, along with emerging trends such as the rise of the “staycation” (in the past five years domestic holidays have increased by 12%) suggests that the tourism industry needs to strive to be more competitive and appealing in the future.

You can read the report for yourself here. We’d love to know your thoughts on the future of the UK’s tourism economy.

Blog by Charlotte Banks, Media and External Affairs Intern


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Housing, Octavia Hill and the NPPF

One of the National Trust’s fiercest critics in the debate over the NPPF has been Colin Wiles, a housing consultant based in Cambridge. His latest blog, ‘Crying Wolf in the Countryside’ is the latest in a series of attacks on our work on the planning reforms.

Since the blog seeks to undermine the National Trust’s entire Planning For People campaign, it merits a reply. We are happy to provide one.

Economic contradiction?

Colin was reacting to the new report, ‘Inexpensive Progress?’, commissioned from Vivid Economics by the National Trust, CPRE and RSPB. He thinks the report is contradictory, since it maintains that planning reform will not lead to growth in the short term, whereas the Trust has been arguing all along that the NPPF will lead to ‘sprawl’ and overdevelopment.

It’s worth pointing out that the report is entirely independently produced, has been peer reviewed by an academic of considerable standing, and raises questions about green belt and other aspects that do not necessarily chime perfectly with everything the Trust thinks.

That aside, we feel strongly that the Trust’s position need not in fact be a contradiction. We maintain that the NPPF as drafted is more likely than the present system to lead to bad developments in the wrong places. Our argument has therefore been one about the distribution of new development, rather than one about the overall amount of development. Growth is good – but not at the expense of the environments we value the most.

Anyway I won’t cover every aspect of Colin’s argument against us. But one aspect stood out particularly for me. He declares that the National Trust is ‘clueless’ when it comes to housing pressures.

Octavia Hill’s legacy

This surprised me. As Colin well knows, we were founded by Octavia Hill, one of the earliest champions of social housing. (We were delighted indeed to note that Colin’s own website features a photograph of a plaque commemorating Octavia’s birth and her role as ‘one of the founders of the National Trust’).

Like Colin, we celebrate Octavia’s life and achievements – particularly in this, the centenary year of her death in 1912. Octavia was a passionate campaigner for decent homes, and much else besides. She was also a champion of open spaces, at a time when rampant urbanisation in the absence of any planning restrictions whatsoever was threatening green lungs such as Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common and Epping Forest.

We’ll be doing plenty of things in 2012 to celebrate Octavia’s life and work, not least our Octavia Hill awards for environmental and community campaigners, and a partnership with Demos to explore the public policy issues that Octavia was most concerned about from a 21st century perspective.

Our own houses

The National Trust, it is true, was established more as an open spaces organisation than as defender of buildings. Yet our 1907 Act makes explicit reference to our role in protecting ‘tenements (including buildings)’. We are not a social housing charity – but housing is nevertheless a hugely important part of what we do.

We own property throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland including 57 villages. We are also a major landlord with over 2000 tenants. We sometimes act as a housing developer too. Over the last ten years we have built or obtained consent for over 900 homes to be sold on a commercial basis on our land. These contribute to the provision of housing and the delivery of high quality sustainable homes and the profit from these sales help support our broader conservation work. Stamford Brook is the most well-known example, and featured in a publication we co-produced called Volume – delivering sustainable housing (PDF/2MB).

Housing AND open spaces

Octavia Hill did not see a contradiction in championing decent housing as well as in protecting vital open spaces – and nor do we. Indeed, for Octavia open spaces were an essential complement to houses, providing ‘open air living rooms’ for ordinary working people. It is to Octavia indeed that we owe the term ‘Green Belt’ – it was used in her (thwarted) campaign to save Swiss Cottage Fields from development in 1875.

To dismiss the National Trust as ‘clueless’ on housing is therefore simply wrong. We are not a housing charity, it is true, but issues about the future of the landscape go to the heart of our cause. We fully accept that more homes are needed, and the job of local authorities is to plan for these. Good planning in a strategic sense takes time and energy. Given the scale of housing need that faces us, provision of new homes will involve new building on green field sites – we have never denied this. Local plans need to promote new housing schemes, but in ways that ensure the delivery of sustainable development and protect the ‘spirit of place’ that resides in our towns and villages. What is so unreasonable about that?

Urban footprint

One final point. Colin claims at the end of his article that building the three million homes that will be needed over and above the existing urban footprint is likely to consume ‘only’ 1.3 per cent of the unprotected countryside. We’d hardly notice, in other words. Funnily enough, the road network in this country takes up a similarly small proportion, 2.2 per cent of our land mass. So adding half as many roads again overnight would go largely unnoticed? If such a degree of development is now needed to prevent the crisis that Colin predicts, I hope we have a planning system that is strong enough to mitigate its worst excesses.

Ben Cowell, National Trust Assistant Director of External Affairs


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Early Christmas present from the CLG committee

We’re delighted that the CLG Select Committee has published such a strong endorsement of the National Trust’s planning campaign today.

Their report, which is based on over 130 written submissions and four oral evidence sessions held in October and November (including one with the National Trust) calls unambiguously for the draft National Planning Policy Framework to be rewritten, if we’re to ensure that England has a planning system that’s balanced, effective and fit for purpose.

Recommendations

The MPs on the Select Committee have certainly been thorough: their report runs to 77 pages, and there are 35 recommendations in the conclusion. Chief among these is the need for the document to be made clearer and more precise, if necessary by lengthening it.

The Committee is also upfront about the need for a clearer definition of sustainable development, albeit one that is sufficiently flexible for local authorities to adapt to their particular circumstances. The recommendation for the inclusion of the five guiding principles from the 2005 sustainable development strategy (PDF 5.7mb) is particularly welcome.

We support the Committee’s reaffirmation of the importance of the local plan – and the need to drop the reference to a default ‘yes’ to (sustainable) development. The Committee calls too for the relationship between Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans to be clarified – an essential requirement if the NPPF is to facilitate the sort of development that’s now needed.

We strongly endorse the Committee’s call for the principle of brownfield land being considered first for development to be reflected in the new NPPF, and for an effective town centre first approach to be reintroduced. It’s good to hear them call for provision to be made explicitly for arts and culture in plans as well.

Finally the Committee makes some very welcome points about process. It calls for a clear transition period, with time allowed for local authorities to get their plans in place before the presumption in favour of sustainable development (in line with the plan) is allowed to apply. And the Committee calls for a further, brief round of consultation to ensure that the technical aspects of the NPPF are properly thought through before it starts to bite.

What next?

These are all welcome recommendations, and we look forward to hearing Government’s response. It will surely be hard for Ministers not to listen to such an important Committee, especially after the Inquiry was explicitly requested as part of the thinking on the new NPPF. We’ll be ready to test the new NPPF against these recommendations, and our own consultation response (PDF 112kb): we very much hope that MPs’ views, as well as those of the 228,000 who signed the National Trust’s petition, are taken properly into account.


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Simon Jenkins takes on the NPPF

Our Chairman, Simon Jenkins, gave the keynote address at The Heritage Alliance AGM and Heritage Day event last week. His talk was called ‘Taking on the Plan’, and focused on our planning campaign work. As we don’t have a transcript of the speech, here’s a summary of the main points he raised. It’s not an official National Trust statement but it’s posted here so others can pick up on the main themes of his address and his personal view of the issues.

“Policy, not politics

‘Taking on the Plan’ was a carefully chosen title, reflecting the fact that our planning campaign has been based on policy, not politics. We don’t make a habit of criticising Government, but we couldn’t avoid making our position clear on the changes that were taking place in England as a result of the Localism Bill (now an Act) and the National Planning Policy Framework (#NPPF).

And the response was amazing – we’ve received more signatures to our public petition than there are members of the Conservative Party.

What’s wrong with the NPPF?

The planning reforms at stake are ill-conceived and they’ve come about as a consequence of serious lobbying by developer interests. They are a denial of planning in its traditional sense.

You can’t abandon planning in favour of just giving planning permission. The presumption in favour of sustainable development is particularly ill-defined – it gives a green light to all sorts of developments that would not otherwise be given the go-ahead.

Our position

We’ve tried to be a helpful voice in the debates, while at the same time using all our influence to present a clear challenge to the proposals as they stand. This is not always an easy balance to make. It’s hard to tell where things stand exactly at present, now the consultation has closed. If a poor version of the NPPF is the end result, we are prepared to make a large public noise again.

What needs to change? 

At present, the draft NPPF just doesn’t meet its own criteria. It doesn’t ensure localism, and it won’t promote growth – and these two objectives might in some ways be antithetical. We need to re-establish the sovereignty of the plan, to ensure sensible decisions are made about the future of the country.

Beautiful and ugly are words going out of fashion – we should be open about the need to protect things on aesthetic grounds as well as simply because they are old.  Listing the countryside would be one possible option, using the evidence we have about the character of the nation’s landscapes. Then we would know more clearly which bits of the countryside would tolerate development. (Our campaign has been mainly about the countryside.)

Keeping up our campaign

We need to keep up the pressure on the NPPF. We’ll need an effective transition to the new regime, and also we’ll need to mobilise voices to ensure that local plans are influenced at the local level. We need to concentrate on helping councils and communities to understand and value heritage – it’s not all about what we say to central Government.”

Simon Jenkins – National Trust chairman

Want to add your voice? Sign our petition and write to your MP via Planning for People. You can also follow us on Twitter and join the #planning4ppl debate and *like* us on Facebook for further opportunities to connect.


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All eyes on housing strategy – laying the foundations

Yesterday saw the publication of the much anticipated Government housing strategy. With the economy faltering and the debates over the planning reforms still at large, the report aims to set out a “radical new strategy to reignite the housing market and get the nation building again”.

It is good news for everyone that the Government is trying to sort out the country’s housing problems. And that they are doing so with a localist approach.

Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust, responded by stating that:

“Having identified keys to unlocking housing shortages, the question the Government must now answer is where best to invest to meet the needs of the nation. We see a golden opportunity to drive forward an urban renaissance alongside sensitive, locally-driven evolution of rural areas.”

The opportunity to build ‘complete communities’ is now before us. Places people want to live and work in, where facilities, green spaces and infrastructure are provided alongside housing. This is the smart growth the country needs.

Another step in the right direction is the Government’s commitment to improving the quality of development, particularly for large-scale housing schemes.

The Government’s intention to require local authorities to reconsider Section 106 agreements is an issue. As always, the Trust will be looking very carefully at the proposals to make sure this won’t lead to inappropriate, poor quality development.

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