The National Trust owns important sites such as William Clough on Kinder Scout, site of the 1930s mass trespass

The National Trust owns important sites such as William Clough on Kinder Scout, site of the 1930s mass trespass

The head of England’s largest conservation charity has issued a call to arms to its 3.8 million members to challenge the coalition Government’s plans to change planning law.

National Trust director-general Dame Fiona Reynolds said the planning reforms threaten the places that are special to people the length and breadth of England.

The mobilisation of Middle England comes from an organisation best known for its ownership of stately homes and country houses but which is actually a major landowner in the national parks and has in its care some of the most popular mountain and moorland in England.

The letter from Dame Fiona is bound to add to Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs’ worries over plans to change the planning framework to favour ‘sustainable development’ unless there are good reasons to refuse. The ‘presumption in favour of development’ advice has already been disseminated by Sir Michael Pitt, head of the Planning Inspectorate, to its members, who decide planning disputes.

The Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph has also launched a Hands off Our Land campaign to urge ministers to rethink the proposals, joining the National Trust, English Heritage and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England in opposing the plans.

Dame Fiona said: “If the countryside or our heritage is under threat, we have a clear responsibility to stand up for it and the people who love it

“For decades the planning system has guided development to the places that need it. It has protected open countryside, prevented sprawl and safeguarded the historic character of our cities, towns and villages.

“But now, through its draft National Policy Planning Framework published in July, the Government wants to change the planning system into a tool to promote economic growth above all else. Let me stress that the National Trust does support the need for economic growth – just not at any cost.”

Dame Fiona Reynolds

Dame Fiona Reynolds

She pointed out that only half of England’s local authorities have local or neighbourhood development plans in place.

“Where there are no plans there will be a presumption that development will proceed, unless local people can find the resources and specialist knowledge to prove that it will cause significant harm,” Dame Fiona said. “In practice, the dice are heavily loaded to favour development.

“With these changes comes a huge risk to our countryside, historic environment and the precious local places that are so important for us all. The planning reforms could lead to unchecked and damaging development on a scale not seen since the 1930s.”

She urged National Trust members to write to both their MPs and to the Prime Minister to voice their concerns. The trust has also set up an online petition www.nationaltrust.org.uk/planning . Names can also be added at National Trust properties.

The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty was established in 1894 by Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley.

The Trust owns or controls about a quarter of the Lake District and about 12 per cent of the Peak District and has substantial sections of the English coastline.

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