New opportunities to back beauty

Recently we co-hosted a reception with think tank ResPublica and the Woodland Trust to celebrate the work of the Backing Beauty Commission. In this blog we share why ‘we back beauty’ and how we’ll continue to highlight new opportunities for how beauty can be prioritised in public policy.

Backlit trees and bluebells in the garden at Dunham Massey, Cheshire. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Take a look at our founding Act of Parliament from 1907, and it is clear that the enhancement and protection of beautiful places has always been integral to the work of the National Trust. Since we started supporting the We Back Beauty campaign in 2015, we’ve worked with partners to raise awareness about the importance of beauty and highlight the central place it should have in the making of public policy.

Why beauty?

ResPublica’s report ‘A Community Right to Beauty’ (2015) described beauty as a right, but one that not all in society currently enjoy. The report highlighted a need to democratise beauty; unsurprisingly, we agree that beauty should be protected and shared – ‘for ever and for everyone’.

Beauty in the everyday places we live, work and play, shouldn’t just be the ‘right’ of the affluent, but should be intrinsic in decision-making and place-shaping in all areas.

What have we achieved so far?

The National Trust and other organisations supported the production of the ‘A Community Right to Beauty’ report by ResPublica as mentioned above. This report contained policy ideas on how beauty could be mainstreamed into public policy decisions. With National Trust and The Woodland Trust support, ResPublica then pulled together a commission of experts to help put forward the case with politicians and policy makers, and promoted their ideas through a series of political events, detailed manifestos and policy documents.

We think this work has led to a number of positive outcomes.

The Commission received formal support for its aims and principles from 21 organisations, including the Core Cities group, the Town and Country Planning Association, and English Heritage, and received the formal backing of 9 MPs across its lifetime, including select committee chairs Clive Betts and Sarah Wollaston.

In terms of policy change, the Government’s Housing White Paper commitment to drive up the quality and character of new housing was particularly welcome. The Conservative Manifesto, too, talked about creating ‘well-designed and well-tended places’ and ‘encouraging the very best practice in the design of buildings and public places’. We look forward to seeing what this means in terms of policy change.

A family walking their dog on the beach at Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland. ©National Trust/Solent News & Photography Agency

So how can we continue to back beauty?

At our recent reception held at the Garden Museum in London, we reflected on the past two years of work in this field. Dame Helen Ghosh, our Director General, focused on two key themes. Firstly, she encouraged the creation of ‘everyday beauty’ through public policy. Not every development can be extraordinarily beautiful, like the places the National Trust cares for. Rather, we should be aiming to do the ordinary well, and show that it is possible to deliver development at a commercial scale that is well-designed, functional and sensitive to the landscape in which it sits.

Secondly, she argued that public policy should ensure that every developer becomes a ‘legacy developer’. ‘Legacy developers’ recognise the long-term impacts of the developments they undertake, ensuring that new houses and infrastructure (and the landscapes they sit within) remain beautiful and well-tended in the longer term.

In addition, Helen highlighted three specific opportunities to promote beauty through public policy reform:

  1. Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): As a successor to CAP is designed, we have the ability to influence what is prioritised. One opportunity for beauty is the need to continue to invest in our rural heritage. Furthermore, we feel that ways in which we can create thriving and healthy rural landscapes across Government Departments is another area which should be considered as the policy is designed.
  2. Housing: We recognise the scale of the housing challenge for the nation and we understand that not all developments can be extraordinary. But rather we encourage the government to do the ordinary well, and suggest that all developers be ‘legacy developers’, who build things which are well designed and that will be there for the long term.
  3. Transport: We see no reason why functional infrastructure like roads and railways can’t be beautiful and like John Hayes, the Minister for the Department for Transport, we see this area as an opportunity for beauty. We support the establishment of the HS2 and Highways England Design Panel and continue to encourage good design which considers the landscape in which it will be located in.

We look forward to working with the Government in these three key areas to advance the cause of beauty.

A view of Bath city from Prior Park, Bath. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

Want to find out more?

Inspired to find out more about our view on the right to beauty? See our ‘Beauty as a right, not just a privilege’ blog.

Interested to hear more about what we think of the Backing Beauty Commission? See our ‘We back beauty’ blog.

If you would like to learn more about our views as a Trust please click here.

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