UK

Planning system overhaul 'damage' feared

  • 26 July 2011
  • From the section UK
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Oxfordshire countryside
Image caption Conservationists say the threat to the countryside will grow as the economy recovers

A proposed planning system overhaul in England could lead to "unchecked and damaging development", campaigners say.

The draft National Planning Policy Framework introduces a "presumption in favour of sustainable development".

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said it feared "grave" consequences. The National Trust said the government was "putting short term financial gain ahead of everything else".

Planning minister Greg Clark has said a "simpler, swifter" system is needed.

The framework streamlines more than 1,000 pages of policy into just 52, transforming a system whose "volume and complexity have made planning increasingly inaccessible to all but specialists", according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Mr Clark said: "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."

The department insists that protections for the natural and historic environment underpin its proposals, which also encourage "opportunities for sustainable growth to rebuild the economy".

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "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."

'Wrong place'

But the National Trust expressed concern over the framework's "core presumption that the default answer to development will be 'yes'".

This could be "a green-light for poor quality or development in the wrong place", the charity warned.

"We know from our own experience that new development can combine economic benefit with great results for people and the environment," the National Trust said.

"By changing their plans to make sure this happens everywhere, the government could lead us towards a green industrial revolution.

"Without these key changes, the country's green spaces and built heritage will come under the kind of threat not seen in decades."

The CPRE said it welcomed "much of the thinking" behind the government's draft framework.

It acknowledged that more people needed to engage with planning, but the system's complexity had become a "barrier".

However, the group added: "With their crude focus on economic growth and default 'yes' to development, ministers are storing up plenty of unintended consequences for the future.

"Over the next few months the government needs to listen and make further improvements or the consequences for the English countryside and the character of our towns and villages will be grave."

Labour's shadow local government minister, Jack Dromey, said: "David Cameron's government has spent months dithering over the National Planning Policy Framework, causing chaos in the planning system. In the meantime, investment by house builders, developers, energy companies, and transport organisations has been put off due to the uncertainty, damaging this country's economic growth.

"Pushing this document out during the recess, when it should have been published to support the scrutiny of the Localism Bill and whilst Parliament was in session, is unacceptable. This is not the way to begin consultation on an issue of such national importance."

A 12-week consultation on the draft framework has been launched.

The government says the proposals maintain a commitment to protecting green belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Other main points include:

  • A commitment to public transport, as well as encouraging provision of charging points for electric cars and welcoming other low-emission vehicles
  • Emphasis on tackling noise pollution, as well as light pollution "affecting the beauty of the night sky"
  • Facilitation of a new generation of renewable energy projects, as part of an acknowledgment of the role of planning in tackling climate change

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Businesses will welcome the concept of shorter, simpler planning rules, but they need to see more than just a new policy document to regain confidence in the planning system.

"A pro-growth approach must fast become reality on the ground, with local councils saying yes to business growth and expansion far more than they do at present."

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