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Press Release – Building Beautiful Places Will Improve Social Justice For All

29 April 2016


The National Trust and Woodland Trust have joined leading politicians and policy makers to launch a campaign to challenge the injustice which stops less well off people having access to beautiful places and green spaces, independent think tank ResPublica announced today.

The Backing Beauty Commission will demand power is given to communities to make their own decisions on how to improve their surroundings, in particular when housing construction or regeneration and other infrastructure development is planned.

It comes after the think tank revealed last year in its report A Community Right to Beauty that households with incomes higher than £45,000 a year had better access to beautiful surroundings, which have a proven positive impact on health and wellbeing.

As well as senior National Trust and Woodland Trust directors, the Commission includes high profile figures such as Tom Bloxham MBE, former Chancellor of the University of Manchester and Chairman and Co-Founder of regeneration company Urban Splash and Dame Fiona Reynolds, the former director general of the National Trust. Organisations such as English Heritage, Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also support the Commission.

Caroline Julian, who co-authored last year’s report and is Deputy Director of ResPublica, said: “The social injustice which is seeing poorer people being let down because of their surroundings needs to end. They should be given the opportunity to improve their area and as a result, improve their life chances.

“Beautiful places matter – they not only improve the health of people living nearby but also encourage better communities. Rundown neighbourhoods are less likely to be cared for by residents and more likely to attract anti-social behaviour. The Prime Minister’s announcement in January that many poor housing estates will be regenerated was a welcome recognition of the importance of place, but we want see a wider drive to improve areas with little access to beauty.”

ResPublica has found the planning system leaves communities unable to set the agenda for decisions on the future of their area. With local planning departments having seen their resources decline dramatically as a result of austerity, communities are increasingly facing a decision to simply either approve or appeal applications for development.

ResPublica believes such a system of ‘planning by appeal’ is not only inefficient, leading to delay and frustration for communities and developers alike, but also a missed opportunity to improve public health, local economies, and the quality of local civic society.

The Commission will champion ways to improve everyday surroundings by devolving power to local authorities through the city devolution agenda, as well as building on existing schemes such as Neighbourhood Planning. This will allow communities to have a real voice in deciding how their neighbourhood will look.

ResPublica’s campaign will demand that the increasing political priority being given to housing supply is seen as an opportunity to put community hopes for their built environment and green spaces at the heart of any new development or regeneration.

The Commission intends to make submissions to parliament as well as talking to developers and policy makers at local and national level. A dedicated website ( will serve as a hub for the campaign and to highlight related work by other organisations.

Simon Murray, the National Trust’s Senior Director of Strategy, Curatorship and External Affairs, said: “The 1907 Act that set up the National Trust tasked us with looking after beautiful places “for the benefit of the nation”. To truly achieve that ambition for all the nation, we need to work alongside a well-functioning planning system and engaged and active civic groups right across the country. But we’re now seeing the planning system starting to fragment and local communities feeling shut out of many decisions.

“The launch of the Backing Beauty Commission comes at just the right time to reverse this and ensure that everyone has a right to beauty. Beauty shouldn’t be only reserved for visits to special places but should be able to be enjoyed by everyone, everyday.”

Beccy Speight, Chief Executive of the Woodland Trust, added: “Beauty matters. It provides inspiration and shapes how we feel about the places where we live and work. The Woodland Trust wants to rekindle people’s relationship with trees and woods, making them integral to our lives.

“We need to ensure that everyone has access to the many benefits they bring and the work of the Backing Beauty Commission has an important role to play in helping make that a reality”

Notes to editors:

The members of the Commission’s Steering Group are:
Beccy Speight, Chief Executive, Woodland Trust
Simon Murray, Senior Director, National Trust
Nick Herbert MP, Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Downs
Clive Betts MP, Member of Parliament for Sheffield South East, and Chairman of the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee
Tom Bloxham MBE, Chairman and Co-Founder, Urban Splash
Dame Fiona Reynolds, former Director General, National Trust; and former Director, CPRE
Tony Burton CBE, former Chief Executive, Civic Voice, and former Director of Policy and Communications, Design Council

Supporting organisations are:
English Heritage, CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England), Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community, Farrells, Atlantic Gateway Parklands, Landscape Institute, Greenwich Foundation for the Old Royal Naval College, Create Streets, Spacehive, Civic Voice, Urban Splash, Commonplace, Hastoe Housing Association, Core Cities,

ResPublica’s report, A Community Right to Beauty, published last July, included a survey conducted in conjunction with Ipsos MORI which found that less than half of those living in social rented housing, 45%, felt they had access to beautiful places near to where they live, as opposed to 57% of homeowners. Less litter was the most commonly chosen factor in the poll in making an area beautiful, by 36% of respondents.
Less crime, vandalism and graffiti was mentioned by 35% and 23% said fewer vacant and rundown buildings was one of the three most important factors in making their local area more beautiful.

A Community Right to Beauty recommended:
* The public should have the power to choose their preferred design and developer. Communities should be consulted on proposed new developments, and a range of options should be subject to a local vote.
*Citizens’ Juries would oversee problematic developments. Residents supported by experts working within a public budget would make decisions that the local authority would be bound by.
*A Community Right to Reclaim land should be extended to buildings and other local assets to enable the public to challenge authorities to improve derelict or unsightly developments.
*To incentivise visual improvements that communities want there should be Capital Gains Tax relief for developers on developments approved by the community.
*VAT relief on refurbishment costs, where a community calls for or takes a lead on improvement to a building. For buildings listed as ‘Local Beauty Assets’ (see below) the relief should be greater.
*A system similar to Business Rates Retention, which helps economic growth, should be used to recognise the value a beautiful development adds to an area.
*Areas of Outstanding Urban Beauty: Similar to Conservation Areas these would recognise beauty that isn’t just historic or green.
*Buildings, areas and spaces with local importance should be labelled ‘Local Beauty Assets’ and preserved and maintained.
*Areas without much visual appeal should be designated Community Improvement Districts. In these areas communities would be empowered to demand policies to tackle problems such as Litter Abatement Orders where litter is an issue.

The ResPublica Trust is an independent non-partisan think tank. Through research, policy innovation and programmes, ResPublica seeks to establish a new economic, social and cultural settlement. In order to heal the long-term rifts in this country. ResPublica aims to combat the concentration of wealth and power by distributing ownership and agency to all, and by re-instilling culture and virtue across the economy and society.

To receive the report and arrange interviews with report authors and supporters please call Oruj Defoite on 07866685130 or email