Beauty as a right not just a privilege

Think tank ResPublica are today launching a report setting out how a “right to beauty” can restore and democratise the idea of beauty in public policy. The report shows how those on higher incomes are able to live in and access more beautiful places while those on lower incomes are less able to. Beauty benefits people but ResPublica warn that people feel less confident about the idea of beauty and therefore less able to articulate their desire to live in beautiful places to those who have the power to deliver it.

The National Trust worked with ResPublica on the report, along with organisations like the Woodland Trust and Hastoe Housing Association. Beauty is something that matters to the Trust – we were founded at the end of the nineteenth century to preserve places of beauty and historic interest.

The National Trust has responded to the threats to the very special beautiful and historic places over time, from stately homes in the 1930s to threats to the coast in the 1960s. We have democratised access to that beauty so that there are now 20 million visits to our properties and gardens and 200 million to the countryside we own each year. Our new strategy now recognises that one new threat is to the places where people live.

View over London from Fenton House and Garden, London. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

View over London from Fenton House and Garden. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Though our work to look after the special places in our care remains our top priority, we aim to play our part alongside others to support good design quality, the inclusion of green spaces for all communities, respect for heritage and good placemaking that recognises the importance of sprit of place. We want the places where people live to be celebrated and loved.

Part of our approach for the places people live is around the impact of spending cuts and how we can shepherd an existing system of protection and management of parks and local heritage (that has largely worked well) to a new model where state funding plays much less of a role. But alongside those immediate concerns, we also need a longer-term vision for places.

That’s why this report is so welcome, particularly as the Government embarks on another round of planning reform (a cause for concern for many). The Community Right to Beauty outlined in the report should give communities power to:

  • Challenge new development on the grounds of beauty; not in order to prevent development, but to enhance its visual appeal for the community.
  • Call for the improvement of derelict, void or unsightly buildings and spaces, and take on the ownership or management of such assets to speed up the process.
  • Protect, maintain and improve local cherished, beautiful buildings and spaces especially where there is no existing protection in legislation.
  • Genuinely shape, preserve and enhance their local area, beyond that which is already available via existing Neighbourhood Forums.

A Community Right to Beauty, underpinned by planning guidance and fiscal incentives and supported by facilitation of community engagement, can help us to invigorate our attachment to place and community.

Richard Hebditch

External Affairs Director

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