George Kerevan made a number of good points about the protection of a historic battlefield (“The second battle of Prestonpans”, Perspective, 31 December) but his assertion that the National Trust for Scotland’s “primary role” is seen as “economic regeneration” or that we “will retreat if told by Scottish Enterprise” is not among them.
The Trust is a charity and independent of government. Our primary purpose is conservation and the majority of our funding comes from our 320,000 members, as well as generous donors and supporters, and not the public sector.
I am not aware of any situation where we have compromised conservation of the 129 properties we care for at the behest of any government agency for political or economic ends. That is not to say that heritage does not make a valuable contribution to Scotland’s economy.
In this newspaper last April, Terry Levinthal, our director of conservation and projects, relayed the results of a 2007 study showing that the historic environment alone contributed in excess of £2.3 billion (2.6 per cent) to Scotland’s national gross value added, and accounted for 2.5 per cent of total employment, well ahead of fisheries and agriculture.
However, Mr Kerevan is right to draw attention to the effects of short-term thinking and inappropriate development on sites of historic or natural importance.
This is something we are acutely aware of and contend that the planning system requires better balance in assessing heritage value and the needs of local communities: it is not right that charities or local activists with scant resources should be left to face down well-funded commercial interests.
While Prestonpans is not one of the sites we care for, we can perhaps take comfort from the promise made by the former planning minister to the Scottish Parliament on 21 May in which he said the Scottish Government would take steps “to ensure planning authorities protect, conserve and where appropriate seek to enhance, the key landscape characteristics and special qualities of sites on the current inventory of historic battlefields”.
Should this promise not be kept, it suggests that we and others need to do more to encourage further review of planning policy.
The National Trust for Scotland