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Land use and planning

Dramatic views from the south end of Buttermere Lake in Cumbria
Views from the south end of Buttermere Lake | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

One of our founding beliefs is that places matter to people. We take part in the land-use planning system, from neighbourhood level to national schemes, to help protect land and ensure that it’s used for the greatest long-term benefit.

What is a planning system?

An effective planning system guides good, necessary development to the right places, making an important contribution to prosperity and growth. It ensures that poorly designed developments and those in the wrong place don’t get built.

It delivers the new homes, shops and services that communities want, where they want them. And it protects the things that matter to us all, from much-loved open spaces and green fields to our historic city centres, towns and villages.

A planning system should:

  • Be balanced – to integrate environmental, social and economic concerns.
  • Safeguard the public's interest – protect countryside, heritage and nature.
  • Start from what people value about their place.

Our planning principles

Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland we look after a quarter of a million hectares of land, 780 miles of coastline and thousands of archaeological monuments and historic buildings.

As a landowner, conservation charity, tourism and rural business and occasional developer, planning law and processes affect our work on a daily basis. Our planning principles are used to guide us in our decision making about land use and planning.

Seek to influence 
We’ll seek to influence the planning system at local, regional and national levels in accordance with our statutory purpose and will promote an integrated approach to sustainable development.
Support spatial planning 
Spatial planning takes a holistic approach to the environment and its resources, plans long-term, looks at the landscape, catchment or coastal ‘cell’ scale and considers climate change implications.
Sensible management 
We will promote the wise management of the natural environment alongside built and cultural heritage, for this generation and those that come after.
Protecting the environment 
Seek to protect wild and remote landscapes from built development or urbanisation, especially where it impacts on the places we care for.
Using property management plans
In managing land through property management plans, we’ll support and help to achieve the objectives of any designated landscape, wildlife, or historic sites and arenas.
Objecting to proposals, where appropriate
We’ll object to land use or marine-based proposals that have a significant adverse impact on its properties and their settings and context, or in its wider interests.
Using a sustainable construction approach
When proposing development on our land to meet justified needs, we will use a sustainable construction approach.

This will include:

  • Minimising resource use and generation of waste
  • Being energy efficient
  • Minimising or preventing all types of pollution and risk of flooding
  • Safeguarding important wildlife, landscape and historic interests
  • Respecting local/regional distinctiveness, supporting local sources for goods and services where practical
  • Encouraging community involvement and access.
An aerial view of a housing development next a main road with green fields surrounding it, in Sussex.
A housing development in Sussex | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Our role as a developer

In the course of our work, we’re also responsible for some new development. Whether it’s for a new visitor centre or a new green energy project, this means we’re a participant in the planning system. Sometimes we apply for change of use to a building to give it a productive future or to aid farm or estate diversification.

Very occasionally, we seek to develop ‘investment’ land to meet an identified housing need. Sometimes donors specifically offer land with development potential to help pay for conservation work in the future.

Our conservation purpose

Our conservation purpose is paramount so in all cases where we apply for planning permission we look to include sustainable development principles, seeking to minimise resource use, waste and pollution; safeguard landscape, wildlife and historic interests; respect local distinctiveness; and provide better access, and a safe and healthy environment.

We’ve developed the following criteria to ensure only suitable projects proceed:

  • Adhere to the policies in the relevant local plan.
  • Deliver energy efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Build in harmony with the local environment, built and natural.
  • Involve the local community throughout the process.

Leading by example

Most of the land we care for is held for everyone, for ever. Less than 0.01% is currently allocated for housing in local plans and proposed for development by the Trust. When we do release land for development, we aim to use it to show what good housing can look like.

We only sell land for development when we are satisfied that any proposed scheme is the best possible solution for the area and passes a rigorous set of design and environmental standards.

Planning at a national level

The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is the main set of rules that apply to planning decisions and local plan-making in England. The NPPF, introduced in March 2012, should ensure that development is steered to the most appropriate places and integrates the needs of people, places and the economy.

When the NPPF was being drawn up, the Prime Minister wrote to the Trust to reassure us that ‘our magnificent countryside’ would continue to be protected. He said the reforms would ‘maintain protections for the green belt, for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty,’ and would ‘strengthen local participation’.

Monitoring the Government's plan-led system

Since the NPPF came into force in March 2012 we've been checking that the Government’s intentions are being delivered at ground level. We will continue to investigate whether improvements can be made to planning rules to ensure we have a fair and balanced process, delivering good development which meets long-term needs.

Monitoring the National Planning Policy Framework


Consultation response on housing delivery and public service infrastructure

We responded to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s recent consultation on housing delivery and public service infrastructure. The Trust believes that the scale and pace of planning reform in England is increasingly becoming a cause for real concern.

Read our full response.

Planning at a local level

At a local level we monitor planning proposals that are likely to affect the special places we care for. These can be for anything from a house extension to large commercial developments or new road infrastructure.

Often the proposals will be adjacent to land in our care, but even developments some distance away can impact special places, in the form of traffic generation or loss of habitat, for example.

Most applications will not be an issue for us. We may object to others, or suggest some conditions, where we feel our purpose or sustainable development principles are being compromised, or – very rarely – if we feel an unfortunate precedent might be set.

Through informed involvement we have been able to negotiate real environmental improvements in schemes like complex infrastructure proposals, for instance on road or rail alignments.

Where it is helpful to our interests we will also seek to influence local transport plans, shoreline management plans, and river basin management plans.

Planning at a neighbourhood level

Planning at a neighbourhood level is very important; neighbourhood plans, which are prepared by communities, form part of the statutory development plan for that area.

These plans set out what is special about a neighbourhood and how its character can be preserved and enhanced through appropriate and sustainable new development.

Heritage assets can help to achieve a wide range of social, economic and environmental goals, so it’s important that it forms part of the planning process.

Help with neighbourhood planning

We have created guidance on neighbourhood planning and heritage, which aims to help communities identify important features in their local areas and incorporate appropriate policies and objectives. Download the guidance here.

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