Ministers go to war with CPRE & NT over planning shake-up 'smears'

Tony Gosling tony at
Sun Aug 7 23:36:39 BST 2011

Ministers go to war with green charities over planning shake-up 'smears'
Ministers have launched an unprecedented attack 
on two of Britain's leading environmental 
charities for opposing the Government's planned 
shake-up of the planning system.
By Patrick Hennessy, Andrew Gilligan and Alastair 
Jamieson - Telegraph - 8:30PM BST 06 Aug 2011
The National Trust and the Campaign to Protect 
Rural England (CPRE) came under fire as they 
mobilised against new planning rules that they 
say put the Green Belt in peril.
The planning reforms are supposed to streamline 
complicated rules on new buildings, reducing 
1,300 pages of national planning policy to just 
52 pages. In a highly controversial change 
councils will be told there should be a "presumption for development".
Conservation groups say the reforms could allow 
un-checked development in the countryside and 
lead to parts of the Green Belt being concreted over.
For the first time in its history, the National 
Trust is to mobilise its 3.6 million members 
against the Coalition's proposals and urge every 
visitor to its sites to sign a petition opposing the framework.
The 60,000-member CPRE is preparing to take the 
attack directly to David Cameron, citing a speech 
he made to the group in 2008 in which he promised 
to "cherish" the "beauty of our landscape [and] 
the particular cultures and traditions that rural life sustains".
But both organisations were heavily criticised by 
Bob Neill, the Local Government Minister. He 
accused them of being "vested interests" that 
were peddling "deeply misleading and simply untrue" claims.
He insisted that Green Belt land, as well as 
Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of 
Special Scientific Interest and National Parks 
would continue to be fully protected.
"This is a carefully choreographed smear campaign 
by Left-wingers based within the national 
headquarters of pressure groups," he said.
"This is more about a small number of interest 
groups trying to justify their own existence, 
going out of their way by picking a fight with Government."
His attack came amid mounting opposition to 
changes to the National Planning Policy Framework 
that were announced last month. Tories were among 
MPs raising serious concerns as a three-month 
public consultation period got under way.
Despite ministerial assurances, The Sunday 
Telegraph has learnt that the Green Belt could 
come under threat. A government "impact 
assessment" of the planned changes states that it 
"could lead to greater development on the Green Belt".
It is under threat from new powers to develop 
"community build schemes" and "a wider range of 
local transport infrastructure".
The Planning Inspectorate, which rules on appeals 
and is an arm of the Department for Communities 
and Local Government, says it will be using new 
guidance on presumption in favour of developers 
with immediate effect despite the consultation 
period having three months to run.
Major changes are also likely in town centres and 
industrial areas, where ministers will create 
"business zones" allowing local businesses to 
approve their own schemes and bypass council planning altogether.
The West End of London, home to thousands of 
listed buildings and 36,000 residents, has been made one of the first zones.
Barbara Keeley, the shadow local government 
minister, voiced her concern at the proposals. 
"The Government is allowing financial 
considerations to become key determinants in how 
councils decide on planning applications," she said.
"Labour shares the concern that this might lead 
to inappropriate development and loss of greenfield land."
Potentially more worrying for ministers were 
growing concerns expressed by backbenchers from 
both Coalition parties. Andrea Leadsom, the 
Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, said 
she had "real concerns" over the policy. "I am a 
big fan of localism and letting areas decide for 
themselves what is appropriate for the community 
and yet a presumption in favour of development 
takes that power away," she said.
Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP for Newark, where 
greenfield land has been earmarked for 7,100 new 
houses, said it was important that “local voices are properly heard”.
Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for St 
Ives and vice-chairman of the all-party Commons 
parliamentary housing and planning group, said 
the Government had “got it very wrong”.
“It will not go down well in constituencies,” he 
said. “This 'let rip' approach to development 
will not help the housing situation in Cornwall, 
it will simply drive up the value of undeveloped 
land and therefore make it even harder to find affordable homes.”
The all-party communities and local government 
committee will be carrying out an inquiry into 
the planned changes in the autumn.
“One of the key concerns is how the presumption 
in favour of sustainable development fits in with 
the localism agenda,” said Clive Betts, its Labour chairman.
“Could there be a conflict of interest here? 
Might, in some cases, it be carte blanche for developers to come in?”
Residents fear that housing schemes previously 
rejected by planners, including new towns 
proposed under the previous Labour government, 
could be revived. Peter Nixon, the director of 
conservation at the National Trust, said local 
people would not get enough say in developments. 
“The Government is making warm noises about local 
communities, but in practice the dice are heavily 
loaded to favour development,” he said.
“Ministers have put short-term financial gain 
ahead of everything else. It fails to protect the 
everyday places that communities love. Power in 
planning goes to the powerful.”
Shaun Spiers, a former Labour MEP who is chief 
executive of the CPRE, described his group as “an 
organisation of Middle England”. “CPRE’s branches 
are up in arms about the Government’s proposals 
and our opposition to them is coming from people 
in the shire countries who deal with planning 
issues every day, are committed to the 
countryside and are deeply worried about what the 
Government is proposing,” he said.
Greg Clark, the Planning Minister, said it was a 
priority of the Coalition to sort out planning 
policy. “The Localism Bill got rid of regional 
bodies and took back planning decisions for local 
people, who are the best judges,” he said. “It is 
absolutely clear that the Green Belt continues to 
be protected. It is clear and explicit in the document.
“There is no change in the status of the 
countryside. Everything that was previously 
protected — Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 
Sites of Special Scientific Interest, National 
Parks — continue to be protected.
“It is simply scaremongering to trump up any 
particular site and say the status changes as a result of this.” 

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