Review could relax rules on environment

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Indy Politics
SOME OF THE most scenic and scientifically significant areas of Britain could have their building restrictions relaxed under a review announced yesterday by John Redwood, the Secretary of State for Wales.

Mr Redwood used a thoughtful speech on the environment in Wales to appeal for policies designed to tell people where they can build rather than where they cannot. 'We are not in the business of frustrating the ambitions of those who want new homes and new jobs,' he told his audience of Conservatives in Aberavon.

Not long after being forced to apologise to Cabinet colleagues Virginia Bottomley and David Hunt for criticising the Government's health service reforms, Mr Redwood has again appeared to tread within the remit of others. His words will be interpreted as having a resonance far beyond Wales.

When people thought of green policies, he said, many were thinking of the things that have most influence on their daily lives - a new road or plans for a housing development. 'It will never be possible to allay all of these worries, but there are policies which can reduce rather than increase the tensions.' These included 'practical steps' like encouraging more people and freight to travel by rail; planning roads to blend with the landscape; and a tougher stance on litter and graffiti.

However, to some people, green policies meant 'an impenetrable habitat of jargon, designations and regulations'. For them, he said, 'success is measured by the number of SSSIs established, the number of European Special Areas, the work under the various directives and the memos written on biodiversity'.

He said 'well over one quarter of the land area of Wales' was specially protected, including three national parks, five areas of outsanding natural beauty and 886 Sites of Special Scientific Interest. 'I am currently asking how effective all these measures are in safeguarding what matters most.'

Wherever possible, he added, he wished to leave planning decisions to locally elected councillors. 'Few cases raise matters of more than local significance. Whether councils opt for jobs or wildlife is a matter for them.'

A spokesman at the Welsh Office said it had no knowledge of the review or what stage it had reached.

Michael Griffiths, chairman of the Countryside Council, gave it his backing: 'Eventually there will have to be greater simplification of all the regulations and different designations - so let's have a debate about them.'

But Nick Ainger, the Labour MP for Pembroke, one of the areas currently tightly protected, accused Mr Redwood of failing to understand all the restrictions were vital. 'If you want to preserve the landscape of Wales you need strict planning controls'.