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The A303: Safeguarding Stonehenge’s future

In this series of blog posts Ellie Dewdney will be keeping you up to date with current issues that could affect Britain’s most special places and what the National Trust are doing to preserve these national treasures.

 It will come as no surprise that here at the National Trust we are great fans of Stonehenge; not only does the landscape hold huge archaeological significance but it’s one of Britain’s most admired and iconic places.

The beautiful Stonehenge

The beautiful Stonehenge

So naturally the Government’s next Autumn Statement, which may contain an announcement about improving Britain’s road network – including a strategy for the A303 road running alongside the Stonehenge monument – will be of much interest to the Trust.

This area has already been the source of considerable debate over the years. Just last June, by closing and grassing over almost a kilometre section of the A344, which ran within touching distance of Stonehenge, English Heritage and ourselves were finally able to put into action plans that were suggested as early as 1927.

Grassed over A344

Grassed over A344

The A344's old route by the Heel Stone

The A344′s old route by the Heel Stone

 Although there remain some local road issues to resolve, this change has been widely welcomed, as it has significantly improved the visitors’ experience and the authenticity of the site. The road closure has helped restore much tranquillity to the Stonehenge monument and has also had a positive archaeological impact; Stonehenge and its processional avenue have finally been reunited.

 As Loraine Knowles, Stonehenge Director, English Heritage said

when all the works are complete, people will be able to experience this complex and extraordinary monument in a more tranquil, natural setting.”

 However, the A303 is still a real blot on the Stonehenge landscape, as well as being a traffic black spot for those heading to the South West.

Stonehenge and the A303

Stonehenge and the A303

 

Like many we recognise there are real problems at Stonehenge and we have for many years supported the principle of improving the road network in order to improve the road and the quality of the environment across the Stonehenge Landscape. Some people are insisting change is needed to ease congestion levels no matter what the impact on the landscape. At the Trust we believe that the current round of road improvements might provide an opportunity to finally give Stonehenge the scheme it deserves and that means a world class solution for a world class place. We will be engaging very closely with the Government and our key partners over the next year to ensure we help to protect this very special place.

 

Ellie is the current Land and Landscape Intern at the National Trust. She read Classical Archaeology and

ellie-blog

Ancient History at Oriel College, Oxford and graduated last summer. She’s loves writing and is enthusiastic

about making sure people are up to date on issues affecting some of Britain’s most loved places.

 

 

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Does money really grow on trees?

If you could put a ballpark figure on the value of our nation’s green spaces what would it be?

According to Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner Homebase, green-fingered Britons have already spent more than £20billion on their backyards this year alone.

And it is no wonder, as flower power is estimated to add nearly one quarter to a home’s value.

Echinops and a butterfly in the garden at Killerton, Devon

Money grows on echinops and butterflies according to a National Parks England report

Beyond our garden fences and window boxes, green spaces are proving to be a boon for business.

A new report published today by National Parks England shows the importance of National Parks not just as iconic landscapes and part of our national identity, but as thriving rural economies contributing to national prosperity and wellbeing.

The study revealed that England’s National Parks contributed up to £6.3bn to the economy last year – equivalent to the UK aerospace industry, or the bustling city of Swindon where the National Trust’s headquarters is found.

It is doubtful that the 95million visitors to our valuable ‘breathing spaces’ will care less about these figures while walking amongst some of our nation’s most spectacular wildlife.

The value taken from hearing skylarks on Cheviot Hills or from catching your breath before the rolling panoramic views at Latrigg summit is not something that can be measured by pounds and pence.

However, the £3bn spent by visitors who love to explore beauty certainly can be. And it is our nation’s natural beauty that drives tourism in these areas.

Skylark collecting nesting material

Skylark collecting nesting material

Planning policy currently gives special protections to National Parks to ward against unwarranted development.

Only builds that are of benefit to the local community and to the preservation of wildlife and beauty can be allowed on these highly valued landscapes.

Rather than this protection strangling economic growth, the report states that a significant majority of planning applications in National Parks are being approved by local park authorities (89%, compared to 87% for England as a whole).

These are developments that are fit for the future and contribute to the conservation of the environment, with ecosystem services that underpin activities such as farming, forestry, reduce costs to society by improving health and wellbeing, and help to maintain a healthy environment in which people can live and work.

The National Trust believes it is vital that we have a planning policy that really values all of our green spaces as treasures and recognises the wealth of benefits they can hold for our wildlife, for our communities and for our economy.

  • What value does nature hold for you? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting @NTExtAffairs


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NPPF Part 2 – Brownfield first approach to planning is being eroded

 New research published today by the National Trust and the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) suggests that the Government’s assurances of building on brownfield sites first is not backed up by reality on the ground.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph today (Wednesday 27 March) the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles states: “We are making the most of every single square inch of brownfield land.” 

Yet research carried out by the LGIU points to a dramatically different picture on the ground with developers arguing that it’s not economically viable to develop brownfield sites for new housing and pushing for more greenfield sites to meet housing targets.

The National Trust is surprised by the Communities Secretary’s comments as we are aware of cases – such as in Salford – where the Council’s ambitions for brownfield have been over-ridden in favour of 350 houses on a greenfield site – excluding 10,300 houses which are on brownfield from the Local Plan.

Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation at the National Trust, said: “We are very concerned that the principal of “brownfield first” is being eroded as the new plans emerge.

Our research suggests a growing number of greenfield sites are being prioritised for development with developers arguing that brownfield sites – many of which already have planning permission for construction – are now unprofitable to build on.

We think this shift in priorities is bad news for our cities, bad for our towns, bad for our villages and bad for our countryside.”


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NPPF fails to deliver planning for people – Part 1

Research published today by the National Trust and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) suggests that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is failing to give local people a genuine say in shaping the future of their communities, falling short of the Government’s own localism ambitions. 

Published by Government a year ago today, after a National Trust campaign to secure vital protections for land, the NPPF was intended to stream-line the planning process while promoting sustainable development and putting local communities at the heart of the planning system. 

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Local authorities were given just 12 months to update and adopt their Local Plans, which set out where development should take place in a local area, in consultation with local communities.  Any authorities who fail to have an adopted Local Plan in place by today will be subject to the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ in the NPPF – local authorities will be required to approve development proposals ‘where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out of date’. 

Today’s research suggests that over half (53%) of local authorities surveyed will miss today’s deadline, while more than a quarter (26%) estimate that it will take another year or more to adopt their Local Plans, leaving communities the length and breadth of England at risk of speculative development.  Three-fifths (60%) of local authorities surveyed also said they don’t have the resources necessary to meet future planning workloads. 

The research has also found that the NPPF is leading to the centralisation, rather than localisation, of the planning system – three-fifths (60%) of local authorities surveyed felt that the introduction of the NPPF and Neighbourhood Plans had not helped them produce Local Plans that reflect local communities’ concerns and priorities, while the evidence suggests that development – particularly housing – is being prioritised over the concerns of local people once Plans reach Public Examination stage. 

Finally, the research suggests that the development of brownfield land first, before greenfield land, is being compromised as local authorities are forced to exclude many brownfield sites that already have planning permission from their five-year housing supplies because they are now being deemed as economically unviable to develop, leaving the authorities with little choice but to propose greenfield sites instead. 

We are therefore calling for the implementation of two practical solutions that could help give people a stronger voice in the planning system, as well as deliver sustainable development: an extension of the deadline for local authorities to adopt their Local Plans; and a more sustainable set of criteria to assess the viability of sites that already have planning permission, giving equal weight to social and environmental criteria as well as economic.


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What’s the link between good housing and good wind farm developments? …Good planning

The image of a wind turbine’s swirling blades divides opinions across our nation. From the hilltops of Cumbria to the most southern tip of the Cornish coast, everyone has a personal view on wind energy and an impression in their mind of what that technology represents.

The National Trust’s position is unwaveringly clear on wind – we believe wind energy is a positive move towards reducing our carbon footprint but it should be built in the right places and at the right scale for the landscape.

Wind turbines in motion dissect a landscape of green fields in Anglesey, North Wales

Wind turbines in motion dissect green fields in Anglesey, North Wales

Knowing the Trust’s passion for cleaner, greener energy, it may seem at odds that we choose to oppose wind farms. But we believe strongly in careful planning to protect any special places from inappropriate development. Just as each housing proposal must benefit the needs and character of the surrounding area, so must each wind application be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Once an incongruous development is built on land or a landscape that holds historic significance or natural beauty, it is difficult and sometimes impossible to restore. As the National Trust’s policy is to protect special places forever, for everyone, we feel duty-bound to speak out when we feel these places are threatened.

This is why the National Trust has so fiercely opposed four wind turbines that would have overshadowed the beautiful and historic Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire and is calling for councils to have an extra year to engage with their communities and agree on a local development plan for their areas.

The North Front of Lyveden New Bield, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, in the evening light

The North Front of Lyveden New Bield, Northamptonshire

Shielding our special places

The best protection that we can give to our precious land and heritage is held in the planning system.

Under the Government’s new National Planning Policy Framework, if a local council and community want to have the final say on the design and location for wind turbines – or any development – they need to have an adopted Local Plan.

Why would a large energy company invest more money in the layout, design and materials used in a wind farm if the planning was not in place to demand that?

And if a council has not planned for where infrastructure should go in the local area to meet demand and Government targets, this means they have not protected where they should not go.

Why have wind turbines at all?

Climate change and changing weather patterns are threats that the National Trust takes seriously. The most important thing the Trust can do in terms of planning is to ensure we do not make decisions that make matters worse.

If planned well, wind turbines can have a positive impact on our landscape by replacing fossil fuels for clean energy and therefore contributing to reducing our carbon footprint.

Where are the places that the National Trust does approve of for wind farms?

This is a difficult question and it is not for the National Trust to identify specific sites for development. We want to help local communities to take the lead on what type of renewables schemes would benefit their area and where these should be built. Ideally being owned by the communities themselves.

In Germany, 20% of all energy is now renewable and as much is either community-led or community-owned. From cities like Freiburg to small Black Forest villages the reality is that local people have chosen to buy-in to renewables and in ways that work for them. 

This bottom-up approach must be right and as such we have recently joined a coalition of organisations  committed to working together to empower and support real community-led energy.

Find out more about the National Trust’s renewables schemes here.


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The National Trust calls on the government to give councils an extra year to consult local communities on local plans.

New research has revealed that meeting a 12 month deadline for adopting a Local Plan has been unfeasible for potentially more than half of local authorities.

And with the March 27 deadline fast approaching there is a growing fear that many areas across England without a robust planning scheme in place will become vulnerable to developers looking to cash in on planning loopholes.

When the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published last spring, a successful National Trust campaign helped ensure that local communities were given a voice on land use and protecting treasured areas through their council’s Local Plan.

However, research completed earlier this month by the National Trust and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) found that 51 per cent of local planning authorities will not meet the March deadline. And around 27 per cent said it would take them more than a year from now for their local plan to be adopted. This reflects official information from the Planning Inspectorate that just under half (48 per cent) of local councils in England have had their local plan adopted already.

Without an adopted plan in place, local councils run the risk of being subject to “presumption in favour of sustainable development” as part of the NPPF – or in the more direct and colourful words of the planning minister, Nick Boles, that they will “expose themselves to speculative development”. This means that developers could gain an easy “yes” on the 55 per cent of England without national protection – such as land outside of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and designated green belts.

This is why the National Trust today has called on the government to extend the deadline by one year, to March 27 2014, to give all local communities an opportunity to shape their Local Plan and their area for future generations.

“Speculative development is the polar opposite of good planning,” said Peter Nixon, the National Trust’s Director of Conservation.

“The success of the National Planning Policy Framework depends entirely on local plans being adopted. This is why we suggested that councils should be given a further year to adopt their plans.

“A perfect storm of ever tighter council budgets, the loss of regional strategies and just 12 months to adopt new plans has been too much for many councils to bear.”

The message is one supported by planning minister Nick Boles himself. In his own speeches, Mr Boles has referred to planning “…through which villages, parishes and other neighbourhoods can take control of their future and decide for themselves how and where development should take place” as a revolutionary step forward.

Malcolm Sharp, president of the Planning Officers Society agreed that the original one year’s transition period was not long enough to complete the local plan process.

“Planning authorities are being asked to do local plans, support neighbourhoods, put the community infrastructure levy in place and negotiate infrastructure delivery,” he said. “It’s a big ask on them to keep all the balls in the air.”


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Saving Our Seas: Why the National Trust is backing the call for 127 Marine Conservation Zones

Today’s post is by Phil Dyke, the National Trust’s Coast and Marine Advisor.

On Monday 25th February the National Trust will be joining with the Marine Conservation Society at their Westminster Rally, calling for the government to create a coherent and extensive network of Marine Conservation Zones. Phil Dyke, Coast and Marine Adviser for the National Trust takes up the story as to why the National Trust is backing the call for better protection of our most important marine environments:

The National Trust owns and manages over 700 miles of coastline around England, Wales and Northern Ireland on behalf of the nation. An ownership that includes important marine habitats that have long deserved recognition and protection by the state.

I was closely involved with the development of the Marine Conservation Zone project from 2007 and indeed the National Trust contributed to the early funding of the fledgling project in a belief that there was an urgent need in the UK to up our game on marine conservation. I also worked alongside the government and other NGOs on the development of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, a genuinely ambitious piece of legislation that brings with it both the tools to create MCZs and places a requirement on the administration to deliver.

A view along the coast at Birling Gap ©National Trust Images

A view along the coast at Birling Gap ©National Trust Images

 It can be hard to imagine what MCZs might look like (a sense that they are distant and under water) so for me it helps perhaps to focus on one special place that is up for designation as an MCZ and in which the National Trust has an important interest. This most iconic chalk cliff includes Beachy Head and the Severn Sisters. A geological and geomorphological wonderland where soft chalk cliffs give way to flinty beaches, rasping and rounding as the pebbles slide back and forth in the surf. At the bottom of the beach low tides expose tantalising glimpses of the chalk ledges that form the main feature of the MCZ; home to a host of marine wildlife and thrill to children of all ages enjoying some rock pooling. More than 300,000 people visit Birling Gap each year and get the chance to interact with this amazing and inspirational inshore marine environment – their MCZ.

In our view the creation of the Marine Conservation Zones is a long-awaited opportunity to give the amazing and, in every sense, vital coastal and marine habitats found at places like Birling Gap the same sort of protection that land based sites have enjoyed for decades. However we are concerned that the government, having worked through an exemplary stakeholder led process to identify these sites, is now back-tracking on the intention of the Marine and Coastal Access Act, and is not giving the waters around the English coast the protection they need.

 

The National Trust's responsbilities go beyond our boundaries. These are Puffins standing around on the Farne Islands ©National Trust Images

The National Trust’s responsbilities go beyond our boundaries. These are Puffins standing around on the Farne Islands ©National Trust Images

Birling Gap was originally one part of a proposed network of 127 MCZs recommended to government by the myriad of stakeholders that contributed to the MCZ project. But alas it seems now that the government’s ambition to create a representative network of MCZs in English waters is faltering. The Consultation now includes just 31 MCZs – less than 25% of the network envisaged. An increasing number of people from all the sectors that contributed to the MCZ project are asking the government to revitalise its ambition by creating a genuinely representative127 MCZ network.

Having requested and received the ‘best available evidence’ from stakeholders involved in the 4 regional MCZ projects, the government is now insisting on unrealistic levels of ‘best evidence’ before sites will be considered. By moving the goalposts only 31 of the 127 recommended MCZs (less than 25%) are currently out for consultation. Many of the 96 MCZs rejected are at immediate risk of deterioration and damage.

The National Trust’s view is that the government has a duty to require its agencies to use existing legal mechanisms to protect all 127 of these special marine places until formal designation as MCZ can be achieved. If we wait until all of the evidence is gathered and a lengthy designation process is implemented we risk damage to these underwater habitats and the creatures that call them home.

Effective legislation for the protection of our seas has never been so close, yet so threatened. This is a young, female, grey seal basking on a beach on the Farne Islands in Northumbria ©National Trust Images

Effective legislation for the protection of our seas has never been so close, yet so threatened. This is a young, female, grey seal basking on a beach on the Farne Islands in Northumbria ©National Trust Images


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A Spotlight on: Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale

It’s important for a community to have a shared vision when it comes to planning – but equally, this vision needs to be achievable, with steps and actions set out and acted upon in broad agreement. Neighbourhood planning can be the vehicle for a community’s achievement of its vision.

The Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale Neighbourhood Plan is currently in progress, having begun before the publication of the NPPF and the Localism Act, in late 2010. This makes it an interesting example of how neighbourhood planning can develop in the absence of government guidelines. The latest step taken by the Steering Group is a vision document that has been consulted on with the community. A clear vision was set out in six statements, covering character, wildlife, housing, carbon emissions, the economy and transport.

More than a vision

This sort of ‘vision statement’ isn’t unusual in neighbourhood planning, even at these early stages – we’ve already highlighted the great, shared vision in the Woolley neighbourhood plan here on this blog. What’s really positive about the Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale vision document is the way they’ve taken input from the community about what they want to see in their community, and given a suggested approach to achieving this. For example, the community’s desire for safer roads and pavements that are more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists is mirrored by suggestions of widened pavements and making new developments contingent on rights of way, with pedestrian and cycle paths.

It’s details like this that make a neighbourhood plan just that – a plan. Saying what you want your community to look like in the future is all very well, but without saying what needs to happen or refrain from happening, it’s unlikely that the vision will become a reality.

The detail achieved in this vision document can perhaps be attributed to the Steering Group’s organisational structure. Four topic groups have been formed to help identify key issues, consult with residents, business and stakeholders and to draft sections of the plan. The groups cover housing and the environment; community; economy and transport and infrastructure. Each topic group is headed by a leader, who also sits on the Steering Group, and has a number of local people as members. Recently, members from different topic groups have come together to address issues relating to specific sites and develop options for them. It seems that all those contributing to the Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale plan have their collective vision in mind, but are also able to come up with the practical measures required to achieve it.

This practical aspect can also be found in the map contained within the vision document. That the plan already has a strong spatial element is hugely encouraging. The Steering Group has identified areas with opportunities for enhancement, areas for preservation and green spaces that provide important gaps between villages. There’s been thought about where change can occur, and what’s important to keep and improve upon.

A neighbourhood plan is not just about what the community wants to be and look like in the future, it’s also about what needs to happen to get there. The work already done at Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale bode well for a strong and positive neighbourhood plan.

The group is currently holding a consultation specifically on Ascot High Street and looks to submit the plan to the borough council and hold a local referendum in late 2012/early 2013. Want to find out more? Why not take a look at the vision document and results summary, or the website for this neighbourhood plan?

Have you written a neighbourhood plan? Or do you want to? Get in touch and let us know about your experiences by commenting below. You can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, External Affairs Assistant


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Eric Pickles makes housing and planning statement

Following the cabinet reshuffle and the return of MPs to parliament, the summers talk of further change to the planning system has bubbled to the surface. This afternoon, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles made a housing and planning statement to the House of Commons.

He announced a series of investments, including £200 million for new high-quality rented homes and £300 million to bring 5,000 empty homes back into use and increase affordable housing. There will be the opportunity for developers to renegotiate the affordable housing element of Section 106 agreements, where they can prove it would make a development commercially unviable. There will also be a relaxation of permitted development rights, which will allow householders and businesses to build extensions with fewer restrictions.

A distinction should be made between planning decisions made for individual properties, and the business of planning for whole areas and communities. It was the latter that was of most interest to us and the 230,000 people who joined our campaign on the National Planning Policy Framework last year.

We’re just six months into the Government’s new planning framework and local authorities are busy updating their local plans. We’re glad that the Government has recognised the NPPF as the guiding framework, and that it needs time to take effect, and note that there are 400,000 homes with planning permission waiting to be built and permissions are up since the new planning framework was introduced earlier this year. We also welcome the confirmation that Green Belt policy remains unchanged. The renewed focus on brownfield land marks a great opportunity for smart growth to deliver benefits for people, the economy and the environment.  

We’ll be looking closely at what has been proposed today, and will be keeping a close eye on the details as they develop.


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Offshore wind – a matter of balance

There has been a lot of navel gazing in the planning world in the year since the draft NPPF was published – and many others have said their piece on what they think planning’s all about. The National Trust believes that the principle of balance is at the heart of planning.

That’s why we welcomed the decision announced on the 6th July to reject one application, Docking Shoal, but accept two others for wind farms off the North Norfolk Coast, near Blakeney Point.

The National Trust supports renewable energy sources – in the appropriate place. For us, it’s not about a blanket ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to wind power – it’s about where wind farms are sited, and in what quantity.

The proposed wind farms in Norfolk are situated in a beautiful, wild seascape, near an important site for migrating seabirds, particularly for the specially protected sandwich terns. These factors were important to take into account when considering the wind farm applications.

The predicted bird-strike rates for each wind farm were assessed individually in each application. When viewed in this way, the consequences for the local bird population do not appear too great – but combined, they posed a genuine threat. Equally, the positioning of the rejected wind farm, between the two accepted projects and closer to the shore than the others, would have a greater impact on migrating birds, being located in their flight path. By rejecting one of the three applications Department of Energy and Climate Change, recognised the cumulative impact of wind farms.

The quantity and positioning of off-shore wind farms can also make a great difference to the visual impact of wind turbines on seascapes. The NorthNorfolkCoast is a destination for many because of the wild beauty of its land and seascapes. Approving all three wind farms would have resulted in an unbroken line of turbines in the seascape visible from Blakeney Point. The close proximity to the shore of the refused Docking Shoal proposal would also have had a visual impact. Again, the refusal of this third application struck the correct balance between the need to provide renewable energy and to retain the wildness of our most special places and protect the wildlife that lives there.

We will be keeping up the pressure to monitor wildlife well-being as part of the two approved wind-farms. This will help us to better understand their cumulative effect on wildlife, and make informed judgements on new wind farm applications.

Planning is so often about striking a delicate balance and arbitrating between competing factors. In offshore wind cases, compromises can often be made in terms of quantity and positioning – spreading turbines out, placing them farther out and not near to sensitive habitats. The North Norfolk decision was a good example of how the planning system should behave to serve the interests of the economy, society and the environment.

Anything to add? Please feel free to comment and share your concerns below and you can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, External Affairs Assistant

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