The National Trust manages many historically important properties throughout the UK and is dedicated to preserving the country’s cultural heritage, historically significant items and areas of natural beauty. Most people support its ‘no development’ approach in relation to its properties.
However, not everyone agrees with its recent criticism of the government’s plan to allow permitted development rights (which allow us a change of use without planning approval) in conservation areas. Its specific objection is that it will allow the conversion of empty high street businesses into apartments.
In towns such as York, Bath, Cambridge, and Harrogate, where there are a relatively low number of empty retail shops, its position is seen by some as fully justified.
In other towns where up to one in five shops are empty and are likely to be so for the foreseeable future, people argue that its position is myopic and financially ruinous for retailers and property owners.
Is it simply a question of what is more important: cultural heritage or economic activity and the financial wellbeing of a section of the population?
Ask the conservationists and they will tell you we should preserve our cultural heritage at all costs. Ask the retailers and property owners and they will tell you we have to adapt to changing times and economic realities – if we don’t allow for regeneration, some areas are set to become ‘ghost towns’.
It could be argued that there is no need to introduce a blanket inclusion of all areas when other steps are available to prevent local authorities from hindering development in unviable and culturally and historically questionable areas.
We all accept that governments need to be proactive if they want to implement change and it is impossible to please everyone all the time.
Nevertheless, the lack of political foresight caused the demise of the government’s recent plan to build 300,000 new homes in politically sensitive areas. The same may happen as a number of Conservative MPs have already railed against the proposals.
Is this going to be another of the government’s good intentions which end in a climbdown for Boris?