By Clive Wakely. Both the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) have been criticized by Cameron’s Coalition for encouraging their members to resist planning rules that could place the Green Belt at risk.
Critically, local authorities are to be told that they should adopt a “presumption for development” stance when considering planning applications; something that turns the current rules on their heads.
Instead of developers having to prove the need for building, the onus is to be shifted onto objectors – who will have to justify why development permission should not be granted.
It is claimed that government ministers are promoting the new rules to make it easier for developers to build homes and infrastructure; as such enterprises are considered helpful in stimulating the economy.
These changes arise, it is alleged, from the frustration felt by various government departments over the difficulty experienced in getting major projects, such as new motorways, Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and the proposed HST link, passed the planners in the face of local opposition.
However, conservation and environmental groups have interpreted the governmental change in emphasis as tacit approval from government for local authority planning departments to look more favourably on applications for development in the countryside, even perhaps, on formerly sacrosanct Green Belt land.
In another change local authorities will not have to prefer “brownfield” sites for development, making it much easier for them to authorise the use of “greenfield” land instead.
In response and for the first time in its history, the National Trust is to encourage its 3.5 million members to oppose the Coalition’s proposals, as well as urge every visitor to its many sites to register their opposition to the new plans by signing a national petition.
In addition the 60,000 strong CPRE is also reported to be preparing to campaign against the new rules.
Furthermore the proposals, at face value, appear to represent yet another U-turn by the Tory leader.
In 2008 David Cameron, in a speech he delivered to the CPRE, promised to “cherish” the “beauty of our landscape and the particular cultures and traditions that rural life sustains”.
In response to mounting opposition the Coalition’s Local Government Minister has accused the National Trust and CPRE of being “vested interests” that were peddling “deeply misleading and simply untrue” claims.
According to the minister Green Belt land, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Parks would continue to be fully protected.
Despite these assurances at least one national newspaper has claimed that the Green Belt could come under threat, citing a government “impact assessment” that stated it (new planning policy) “could lead to greater development on the Green Belt”.
More worrying still is intelligence gleamed that the Planning Inspectorate, which arbitrates on appeals and is an arm of the Department for Communities and Local Government, is reported as claiming that it will be using new guidance on presumption in favour of developers with immediate effect; clearly ignoring the so-called “consultation period” that still has three months to run.
So much for public consultation.
Hypocritically some Labour politicians seem determined to jump on the bandwagon to exploit it for political reasons.
These opposition politicians conveniently forgetting the extent of coercion practiced by the last Labour administration in attempting to strong-arm local authorities into undertaking ambitious house building programs on both “brownfield” and “greenfield” sites, to alleviate housing demand pressure partly arising from mass immigration.
Even some Tory MPs have been motivated to express their concern.
This is particularly true of those representing relatively marginal constituencies in rural and suburban areas having sizeable and vocal pressure groups opposed to further development.
That worries many environmentalists is that the new proposals will load the planning application dice in favour of developers and against local people.
This, in turn, could lead to previously rejected proposals for substantial development in the countryside, for new towns for instance, being revived and approved.
How, exactly, these proposals will reinforce existing or provide additional, protection for the either the Green Belt or countryside is not clear.
What is clear, though, are the obvious benefits for property developers and builders, some of whom are substantial Tory Party donors.