The English countryside: presumption will be in favour of development

The English countryside: presumption will be in favour of development

Outdoors campaigners have reacted with alarm at the publication of the coalition Government’s proposals for changes to English planning laws, which they say look set to turn the clock back 80 years.

The draft National Planning Policy Framework published by the Government yesterday contains a core presumption that the default answer to any proposed development will be ‘yes’.

Both the National Trust and the Open Spaces Society said this puts the countryside at risk. The National Trust said the proposed changes could lead to unchecked and damaging development in the undesignated countryside on a scale not seen since the 1930s.

The OSS said it feared for the future of the countryside near people’s homes under what it called pernicious proposals.

But planning minister Greg Clark said it was a coalition pledge to simplify planning law, which currently runs to more than 1,000 pages. The proposals would see these reduced to 52.

“National planning policy and central-government guidance has become so bloated that it now contains more words than the complete works of Shakespeare, making it impenetrable to ordinary people,” he said.

“We need a simpler, swifter system that is easier to understand and where you don’t need to pay for a lawyer to navigate your way around.”

Business Secretary Vince Cable added: “Along with the powerful presumption for sustainable development, the new approach to planning will be a significant step forward in creating the right conditions for businesses to start up, invest, grow and create jobs.”

Sir Stuart Lipton, chair of the Major Developers Group, said: “We are delighted with the results of the proposals in the framework as concepts.

“We have for years suggested that the planning system, with its accumulation of layers of directives and strategies needed radical reform. We support the strategies of the Framework which we feel will provide a more effective planning system. It will have regard for a balance of the interests of the community, the environment and the growth agenda.”

But the National Trust said the proposals sounds the death-knell to the principle established in the 1940s that the planning system should be used to protect what is most special in the landscape, creating a tool to promote economic growth in its place.

Dame Fiona Reynolds, director-general of the trust said: “We believe that the town and country planning system, as a whole, has served the country well.

“It has enabled growth by guiding development to the places that need it, while protecting open countryside, preventing sprawl and safeguarding designated areas and historic buildings.

“Those planning principles remain as necessary today as when they were first established. Weakening protection now risks a return to the threat of sprawl and uncontrolled development that so dominated public debate in the 1930s.”

The National Trust has started a campaign to show what people value about their local places and the importance of strong planning principles.

Nicola Hodgson, case officer with the Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conservation charity, echoed many of the National Trust’s views, saying: “The framework puts the presumption firmly in favour of development.

“This, together with the financial incentives for development highlighted in the Localism Bill, will undermine the protection of the environment and, in particular, open spaces which are so important for the public.

“We are particularly concerned about the proposed new Local Green Space designation.  This must not be a replacement for national designations, or for the current laws which protect village greens. Existing environmental protection must be maintained.

“In April, we published A Framework for Green Space setting out what the new designation should achieve, but it appears that the Department for Communities and Local Government has ignored our proposals. We said that the new designation must guarantee permanent protection and must place on the local authority a duty to protect the land, together with powers of enforcement, through the courts if necessary.

“It is now proposed that the designation should form part of the neighbourhood plan, but such plans can only specify more development, not less.

“The designation is stated to be ‘not appropriate for most green areas or open space’ so it is difficult to see how it will work in practice. It will not be statutory, as was originally proposed, and it must not overlap with green belt designations, which are themselves threatened by the proposals.

“Nor is it clear what the role of the local planning authority will be in protecting and managing these new green spaces.

“We fear for the future of the vital countryside close to people’s homes, and we shall make a robust and critical response to these pernicious proposals.”

The DCLG started a 12-week consultation yesterday on the proposals.

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