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November 14, 2011updated 28 Jan 2016 6:57pm

Preserving our heritage assets from the NPPF

By William Cash

One in three people say heritage tourism is the reason they come to the UK

Last week, as part of the Spear’s campaign to Save Britain’s Historic Landscape and to protect ‘heritage tourism’ in the UK – a critically important economic sector, which is growing by 2.6 per cent a year – I met with planning minister Greg Clark at the House of Commons.

Mr Clark is responsible for the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which is currently being redrafted following consternation among such groups as the National Trust, CPRE, English Heritage, the Historic Houses Association, the Heritage Alliance and the CLA over the threat that the current draft of the NPPF will pose to preserving both the priceless nature of the English countryside and also the country’s heritage assets, which are a hugely significant reason why so many people visit the UK ever year.

One in three people say heritage tourism is the reason they come to the UK and over 80 per cent of all domestic visitors pay a visit to a heritage attraction while on a mini-break – the highest ranked of all leisure activities in the UK, not least since people are increasingly unable to afford exotic weekends away to Barcelona on EasyJet and so on.

Much better to drive down the road and visit one of Britain’s heritage attractions, which are increasingly open all year and offer both valuable jobs and amenities such as tea-rooms, restaurants, education and chintzy gift shops selling everything from plastic suits of armour and swords to original William Morris fabrics (such as at Wightwick manor outside Wolverhampton) at £70 per metre. All plus VAT that goes straight to the government.

The meeting with Mr Clark was an off-the-record meeting, and we hope to follow up with an interview in Spear’s once the redrafted NPPF is released in the earlier part of next year (possibly March).
The case for reform of the current NPPF planning draft in relation to heritage protection is both urgent and overwhelming. A Commons select committee last week wrote to David Cameron to say that the controversial plans introduce a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ to planning rules were ‘unsatisfactory’ and ‘confusing’.

Many MPs regard the lack of clarity with regards to the positioning of wind farms as being the ‘poison in the system’, as the problem has been described by Chris Heaton-Harris MP. He is an outspoken critic of wind farms as a solution to Britain’s energy problems and the MP for the area of Northamptonshire around Crick where the famous Ashby St Ledgers Manor (pictured above) – where the Gunpowder plot was dreamt up in 1604 and which is now owned by Viscount Wimborne – is currently under threat from a wind farm proposal that would ruin the views of the house (remodelled by Sir Edward Lutyens, the great English architect) including the vista and gardens laid out by Gertrude Jekyll – one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed gardeners and landscape designers.

There is a strong case for specially designated protection in the NPPF to safeguard the setting of heritage tourism assets of significance, in particular those that directly contribute to sustainable economic growth by being open to the public.

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The total number of mainstream heritage tourism properties in the UK open to the public amounts to approx just 1,100 properties in total (National Trust around 350, English Heritage around 400 and the privately owned Historic Houses Association core of around 350). These 1,100 heritage properties play a critical role in contributing £12.1 billion to the UK economy, with £7.3 billion coming directly from visits to heritage attractions and museums.

Sixty per cent of this spend comes from the domestic market (with an increasing number of families no longer able to afford to fly abroad for expensive holidays) and 40 per cent from overseas.  This is a critical economic sector with ‘heritage tourism’ growing at 2.6 per cent per year – more than manufacturing.

There are approx 400,000 listed buildings on the National Heritage List. These 1,100 properties – across the country – amount to just 0.25 per cent of all listed buildings. Yet these important heritage assets play a critical role in the tourist economy and sustainable economic growth. There is a strong case – as proposed by the National Trust – for a ‘presumption in favour of conservation’ for these important heritage assets of national importance that contribute so much to our national identity and economy.

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