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Michael McCarthy: 'Visit Britain' could soon become a much harder sell


The public aren't really aware of it. You have to dig deep into the documentation of the planning system to find it. But it's there, in "Planning Policy Statement 7".

Look under Key Principles on page 7, and you will see this: (iv) New building development in the open countryside away from existing settlements, or outside areas allocated for development in development plans, should be strictly controlled; the Government's overall aim is to protect the countryside for the sake of its intrinsic character and beauty, the diversity of its landscapes, heritage and wildlife, the wealth of its natural resources and so it may be enjoyed by all.

That couldn't be plainer, could it? And it seems like a most appropriate and noble aim. "To protect the countryside for the sake of its intrinsic character and beauty ... so it may be enjoyed by all."

Successive governments, Tory and Labour, have endorsed it since the 1970s. But now George Osborne – and let us be clear, it is Mr Osborne who is driving the policy, not the man ostensibly in charge of planning, the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles – is sweeping it away and replacing it with nothing.

And it's not only in PPS7. It's also in Planning Policy Statement 4, paragraph 10: the Government's aim is to achieve "inclusive and locally distinctive rural communities whilst continuing to protect the open countryside for the benefit of all." That's being swept away as well. These official recognitions that the ordinary, unprotected countryside has value for all of us have been a principal reason why uncontrolled urbanisation has not disfigured England like it has, say, New Jersey: do away with them and you are opening the doors to sprawl. A current £25m advertising campaign in America shouts out about how great our countryside is; but things are about to change.