National Trust acting like a 'completely unaccountable body', MP tells parliament

The charity says it is committed to being a positive presence in communities and consults widely on the work it does

A National Trust sign at Chastleton House in Oxfordshire (Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty Images)
A National Trust sign at Chastleton House in Oxfordshire (Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty Images)

The National Trust  has been accused in parliament of acting as a “completely unaccountable body” and breaking long-standing promises to local landholders. 

During a parliamentary debate this week about the 125th anniversary of the charity, Derek Thomas, the Conservative MP for St Ives, claimed the trust was running roughshod over planning laws at the expense of his constituents.

The charity said it was committed to being a positive presence in communities and consulted widely on the work it did. 

Thomas said the trust was “acting at times as a completely unaccountable body that can make impositions on lives and livelihoods without any right to reply or recourse”.

He said constituents in west Cornwall had raised a number of examples, including businesses being charged levies in return for National Trust consent to build on privately owned land, and a disregard by the charity for listed building regulations and basic planning processes.

Thomas also claimed the trust was “embellishing covenants, leaving owners stating to me that their grandparents, who agreed to covenants in good faith, would turn in their grave”.

A covenant is a provision, or promise, contained in a deed to land that may give a landowner some say over what is permissible on a neighbouring property.

Thomas said he had raised his concerns in a letter to the Charity Commission.

One constituent said they had been threatened with legal action by the trust after they set up a temporary hut to sell homemade ice cream, despite the trust having many of its own ice cream vendors at rural beauty spots up and down the country, Thomas told MPs. 

A spokesperson for the National Trust said: “In west Cornwall we're committed to being a positive presence in the community. 

“The team there are actively involved in many local initiatives including sustainable tourism projects, helping local businesses, and lending expertise to protect local buildings and land. 

“We also consult widely on the work we do, holding meetings throughout the year, involving neighbours to discuss and listen to community concerns.” 

The charity said it would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission confirmed it had received Thomas’ letter regarding the treatment of farmers, particularly in his constituency. 

She said: “We are considering the issues raised with us and will respond to the MP in due course.”

The commission said it would need to determine whether the trustees had acted in line with their legal duties and responsibilities. 

The National Trust’s work and purpose has been under fire from some quarters since it published a report into its links to British colonial history in September.

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