Dear Prime Minister,
With the imminent publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework, we are writing to urge protection in the new planning system for both heritage and countryside that not only contributes so much to our economy, but is also what makes this country unique.
Ever since the publication of the government’s new draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in July, Spear’s has been at the forefront of this critical national debate. A month ago, after meeting with planning minister the Rt Hon Greg Clark at the House of Commons, we submitted a 60-page document to the DCLG (‘Heritage and the NPPF’) that highlighted our concerns about watering down heritage and historic landscape protection in the planning system.
Our ‘Save Britain’s Historic Landscape’ campaign has consistently argued over the last six months that there needs to be closer regard in the revised NPPF to protecting Britain’s unique heritage and landscape ‘assets’ that bring in tourism, promote local jobs and directly contribute to sustainable economic growth by being open to the public. The UK heritage tourism industry brings in over £12.1 billion a year to the economy and is growing at 2.6 per cent a year, more than manufacturing.
There are approximately 400,000 listed buildings on the National Heritage List. Of these, only around 1,200 are regularly open to visitors, amounting to just 0.25 per cent of all listed buildings. Yet these important heritage assets play a critical role in the tourist economy and national economic growth, not the least more people are choosing to stay at home for their holidays because of the financial climate. This is why our heritage needs to be protected and made more sustainable, not harmed by short term planning thinking.
We welcome the fact that you have personally travelled to both New York and Davos to promote heritage as a crucial plank of the government’s £39 million ‘Britain Is GREAT’ campaign, with the aim of getting the message out about what makes Britain so special for foreign investment and tourists, not to mention those that work and live here.
This campaign rightly shows how Britain’s heritage can be used to generate ‘long-term’ growth and kick-start the economy.Yet, if that is what the government sincerely believes, then surely the government should be safeguarding heritage and our countryside in the NPPF, not undermining it.
Our submission to Greg Clark contained examples of a number of deeply worrying examples of Government planning inspectors recently over-riding the wishes and feelings of local communities, making a mockery of the notion of Localism as they interpreted the new NPPF guidelines, with its ‘presumption in favour of development’.
The first example we highlighted was back in October, when a government inspector interpreted the new NPPF to allow development close to Grade I Great Coxwell Barn in Oxfordshire, one of the most important 14th-century buildings in the country. In December, an inspector upheld an appeal by German energy giant E.ON which will allow a wind farm to desecrate the famous Northants battle site of Naseby – the second most important battle in English history. A few days later another government inspector allowed another industrial wind farm to tower over Ashby St Ledgers Manor in Northamptonshire, the famous house where the Gunpowder Plot was schemed.
Around the country, the story is becoming the same, with our heritage being increasingly marginalized by developers and planning inspectors, who cite Whitehall pressure to reach EU driven renewable energy targets – some 32,000 turbines by 20120. We began our campaign in early August, before The Telegraph began their hands Off Our Land campaign, by highlighting the tiny village of Winwick in Northamptonshire – population 75 – which is threatened with an invasion of wind turbines that will ruin the historic setting around the 15th-century manor, which was once owned by Sir Thomas Malory. Whilst 100 per cent of the village community are opposed to the development, the new Localism Bill gives little or no opportunity for locals to fight and defeat such unwanted planning applications on a level or democratic playing field.
If true Localism is to prevail, this needs to be changed in the new NPPF. Spear’s is deeply worried about this contradiction. On the one hand, the government is claiming to protect heritage, culture and tourism, while also championing a new planning system and pro on-shore wind and Localism agenda that trumps all other environmental considerations – including heritage and the Great British Countryside.
It was precisely because of these concerns that a group of over 100 Tory MPs, led by Chris Heaton-Harris MP, wrote to you on 30th January expressing their concerns over the government’s support for subsidies for on-shore wind energy funded on consumer energy bills at a time when so many people are struggling to pay for rising energy costs. This was soon followed by another letter to The Telegraph signed by thirty eminent academics and public figures who shared the same views as the Tory MPs.
The below signatories would also like to express the same concerns. As we have argued from our first campaign leader, the government has – to date – offered little clarity with regards to the positioning of wind farms next to heritage sites, in many cases those very heritage sites that help bring in over £11 billion to the national economy.
We have invited Spear’s readers and contributors to add their names to this letter to express our concerns that the wider community have in regards to not giving sufficient protection to the historic landscape and our outstanding heritage buildings in the NPPF. One thing that would make the job of both local councils and planning inspectors easier would be a review (and tightening) of statutory protections give to Grade I and Grade II* buildings, along with a review of the listed buildings system, which is years out-of-date with thousands of buildings incorrectly described.
Like the Tory MPs who wrote to you, we urge the Government to cut the subsidies for on-shore wind and redistribute the savings made between other types of more reliable renewable energy production.
We support the need for a simpler planning system, and the need for more growth and housing. But, above all, we support a more balanced new planning system that combines progressive thinking without harming what makes Britain’s ‘heritage assets’ the envy of the world. Which is no doubt why you chose to flag up the British countryside as an important part of the ‘Britain is GREAT’ campaign.
There is a strong case for a return to ‘presumption in favour of conservation’ for these heritage assets of national importance that contribute so much both to our economy and our sense of national identity. Let’s keep Britain ‘GREAT’ by protecting our heritage and historic landscapes for future generations to enjoy.
To sign this letter, click here
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