A blog about planning, planning law and planning policy


The information on this blog is not intended to be advice, legal or otherwise. You should not rely on it and I do not accept liability in connection with it. If you do have a planning law question on which you would like advice, seek legal advice from a suitably qualified solicitor. Specific advice should be sought for specific problems.

What does the National Trust believe about planning?

There is an interesting but tendentious article in The Times yesterday about the National Trust’s own residential developments at Erdigg near Wrexham and at Cliveden (near Slough, in the green belt).

The NT gets a rather unfair treatment as the article suggests both developments are in the green belt and also does not point out that national planning policy encourages re-use of buildings in the green belt which is part of the justification for the Cliveden development.

However the article does contain the following statements from the NT’s Director of Conservation, Peter Nixon.

“Peter Nixon, the Trust’s director of conservation, said the key to good planning decisions was to weigh-up questions about the environment, local people and the money involved. In the Cliveden and Erddig cases, he argued that a proper process had been carried out and that the planning authorities rather than the National Trust had made their decisions.

He said there was overwhelming support in the local council for the Welsh development, and at Cliveden the plans had been reduced and restricted to the elderly population because of concerns. Mr Nixon pointed out that while the land was green belt, it had previously held a hospital that was run-down, making it brownfield land.

He also highlighted another National Trust development of almost 700 homes at the Dunham Massey estate in Cheshire, which he said was the perfect example of sustainable building.

“There is a fundamental misunderstanding of what our position is. We are absolutely not against development. What we are against is the unbalanced process which is a fundamental problem with the NPPF.” ”

But the planning system is most definitely about “weighing up questions about the environment, local people and the money involved” . The decisions are of course made by the local planning authority not the applicant or landowner. The NPPF and the presumption in favour of development do not change that at all. Then he says the NT is against “the unbalanced process”. There has been no change to process – the law is the same, planning decisions are to be taken in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. But there is a major economic issue – the current financial crisis in the West – and that too is a factor which needs to be put into the balance at the moment. The Government has made that explicit with the presumption in favour of sustainable development (which incidentally was announced in the Budget in March, and is included in the draft NPPF). But it can change that at any time, rightly. The planning system we have enables us to make these changes in response to external changes.

It is important that we maintain the ability of the planning system to give different weight at different times to important factors. It has done that since 1st July 1948 but the difficulty is that it is now seen as a protective measure rather than an enabling one. People want to use it to stop things rather than to create them. I close with a quotation from a perspicacious article in today’s Sunday Times by Dominic Lawson (son of Nigel Lawson, Mrs Thatcher’s Chancellor) who writes about what he would do if there were a proposal for development on the fields adjacent to his home:

“I would declare that an area of outstanding natural beauty would be wrecked; I would discover some rare fauna and flora that might be disturbed by the builders’ excavations; I would co-opt every possible environmental and conservationist pressure group to thwart my neighbour’s plans.”

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