Land has value when it's shared

Graeme Bell: "To me it is natural and reasonable that a place such as this should come into public ownership, so that the right to use and enjoy it may be forever secured to the community. I therefore bequeath the house and estate to the National Trust."

Wallington Hall, Northumberland
Wallington Hall, Northumberland

The words of Sir Charles Trevelyan resonate through the 70 years since he gave away Wallington Hall in Northumberland, the first estate to be given to the trust.

He was a champion for social justice, housing child evacuees in the hall during the war and paying family allowance to estate workers years before it was introduced under the welfare state. And it was Sir Charles's brother George who was the first president of the Youth Hostels Association, seeking to encourage all, but particularly young people, into a love and appreciation of the countryside. As a family they looked to the long term and sought to share their good fortune.

So what would Sir Charles and his younger brother think of the forest of signs just 20 miles down the road from Wallington that declare "Ponteland residents say NO to building in the green belt"?

I think they would be appalled that successive governments have landed us in a situation where many still do not have a decent home, where new build houses are the smallest in Europe, and where those of privilege seek to deny others a roof over their head if it comes at any sacrifice to themselves.

They might also be dismayed at some of the dull acres of new build that have gained planning approval. Above all, I think they would be proactively searching for a solution.

The National Trust's new director-general started work this month. Dame Helen Ghosh will have a full in-tray as she manages the nation's largest portfolio of land and buildings open to the public. But of equal importance should be the trust's duty to convince its four million members of the need for both smalland large-scale sustainable development to meet the needs of communities around the country.

In some cases the most sustainable solution may well be to build on green belt land, designated at a time when the towns and cities it encircle operated in very different ways.

The trust can use its good offices and its many networks to inject balance into the arguments both nationally and locally. What better way to honour the legacy of trust founders Octavia Hill, Hardwicke Rawnsley and Robert Hunter than a campaign aimed at reducing the confrontation which too often accompanies debates on plans and applications? Such polarity creates heat, not light.

Sir Charles would be delighted to know Wallington Hall is among the trust's top 20 most visited properties - and it's likely residents of Ponteland feature in those numbers. On this small island, we must learn to share.

Graeme Bell OBE is a vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association and a life member of the Youth Hostels Association.

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