Eric Pickles vows to strengthen Green Belt

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Indy Politics

The Government will strengthen the Green Belt amid accusations it plans to concrete over the countryside, Eric Pickles said today.

The coalition's proposals to revamp planning laws leading to a presumption in favour of sustainable development sparked claims housing estates would be built on protected land.

But the Local Government and Communities Secretary vowed today: "Our countryside is one of the best things that makes Britain great, and we will protect it."

The National Trust led criticism of the proposed reforms, which will see ministers slash bureaucracy to boost economic growth.

But Mr Pickles, famed for his rotund appearance, told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester today: "You won't be surprised to learn that me and Mrs Pickles are partial to the odd scone and a warm beverage in a National Trust tea room, but the planning system needs to be improved.

"Labour churned out over 1,000 pages of central planning guidance.

"They made the planning regime the preserve of inspectors, pressure groups and planning lawyers, so we're simplifying this guidance to 52 pages.

"We need a system which is quicker, and provides greater certainty for local firms and local residents. But it's not a choice between countryside or concrete."

Mr Pickles spoke about the illegal Dale Farm travellers' site in Basildon, Essex, where families face eviction in a decade-long planning row.

He accused Labour of "creating a system where special treatment was given to travellers" - and signalled a clampdown on travellers' camps on protected land.

He said: "It's not right to have planning rules which gave a green light to traveller camps being dumped in the Green Belt and open countryside.

"The Green Belt should be applied evenly and fairly, so we're changing planning rules to give it more protection."