Have land, will build
First Published 03 September 2016
The National Trust is not against building new homes on its land, as long as the developments are appropriate, says Peter Nixon.
The National Trust was set up to promote the care of beautiful and historic places. We carry out this task on behalf of everyone in the country.
We own housing but that ownership is not part of our core purpose. The total number of cottages and houses throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland is about 5,000.
These are often of heritage importance and many of them are in our permanent ‘inalienable’ ownership. They are occupied in a variety of ways, and house a lot of people.
It can come as a surprise that the National Trust also builds modern homes on its land. Large-scale development is always controversial, particularly for an organisation such as ours committed to protecting green spaces.
At our AGM last November, there was hot debate over the issue of housing on trust land, with members’ expressing concerns about development and sustainability. But the trust’s position received strong support once the situation was fully explained.
The trust remains a passionate defender of landscapes, coastline and countryside but is not against development in principle. What we are against is inappropriate development. So what sort of development do we think is appropriate?
At the time of our AGM only a tiny proportion, 21 hectares (52 acres) of the total 250,000 hectares (617,763 acres) of land in our care, had been identified as having potential for housing. The country needs housing development, and we believe that if it is needed on our land we have a duty to ensure that it is carried out in a sustainable way.
We have established six principles to ensure that development will not be allowed unless it is consistent with our purpose and values.
It must be compatible with our conservation aims, must minimise its environmental footprint, be consistent with the wishes of the donor of the property, provide clear benefit to the nation through the use of funds raised, and be compatible with statutory development planning rules. Finally, we must be satisfied that we would not object if someone else had proposed a similar development. Only if these conditions are all met will we go ahead.
We have two current major housing schemes under way at Stamford Brook, Dunham Massey, near Manchester, and Cliveden near Maidenhead. Another is yet to start at Erddig near Wrexham.
All have involved wide community consultation, and all clearly demonstrate the application of the six principles. A common feature is that the schemes provide funding for the upkeep and permanent protection of their adjoining trust properties. The trust is rich only in liabilities, with a repair bill for our properties running into hundreds of millions of pounds.
‘The country needs housing and we believe that if it is needed on our land, we have a duty to ensure it is built in a sustainable way’
We aim to show leadership, with examples of how to develop houses in a sustainable way. When involved with the planning of the Stamford Brook scheme in the 1990s, we worked closely with developers Bryant and Redrow and have succeeded in creating a development of more than 600 homes that minimises the impact on the environment and maximises the community and conservation benefits.
Innovative building design and techniques have resulted in energy- and water-efficient homes, within an improved landscape setting that has involved the longest river restoration in the UK. This has the added benefit of reducing flood risk on the site and for those living downstream. A survey of people affected by the development speaks for itself -85 per cent felt that it has resulted in an improved landscape.
The development at Erddig will benefit from our experience at Stamford Brook and Cliveden, and is aimed at safeguarding a strong local community and a great Welsh estate.
Two hundred and twenty top-quality homes will be built in local styles, with a quarter being designated as affordable for local people. The scheme will include a community hall, green spaces, shops, school facilities, play areas and a riverside nature park. New paths and cycleways will improve access.
Housing development will remain a small part of our work, but where we are involved in it we must take the greatest care that it would meet with the approval of our founders.