200,000 call for planning reforms rethink

Emily Beament
Saturday 22 October 2011 08:46

More than 200,000 people have signed a National Trust petition calling on the Government to rethink its controversial planning reforms, the organisation said today.

Around 210,000 signatures, collected online, in local communities and at National Trust properties across England, have been handed in on the last day of the Government's public consultation into the proposed reforms.

Ministers say changes to the planning system, which slim down more than 1,000 pages of policy to just 52, are needed to boost growth at the same time as giving communities more say in their local area and protecting the environment.

But concerns have been raised that the reforms, which focus on a "presumption in favour of sustainable development" without a clear definition of what that means, could lead to a return to damaging development and urban sprawl.

The National Trust, with a number of other groups, have been calling for changes to the draft national planning policy framework to ensure it protects the countryside and ensures development that is "genuinely" sustainable.

The ensuing row between ministers and conservation groups has seen the Prime Minister David Cameron step in to reassure opponents the Government is committed to protecting the countryside and to balancing environmental, economic and social needs.

Peter Nixon, director of conservation at the National Trust, said: "The Prime Minister has recognised the need for a planning system that balances the needs of society, the environment, as well as the economy.

"The people of this country truly care about their local community, their local environment, and their local economy, and that has clearly been demonstrated over the past few weeks.

"Talks with the Planning Minister have been positive but it is vital that this widespread public concern is recognised in the final document.

"The range of organisations speaking out on this issue reflects the scale of changes needed to make sure that planning works properly, and does not lead to chaos and planning by appeal."

Another petition by campaign group 38 Degrees has collected more than 114,000 signatures, while the CPRE has helped supporters send 7,000 letters to their MPs, 5,000 responses to the public consultation and 2,000 letters to local newspapers.

A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "We are determined to deliver a simpler planning system which makes absolutely clear the Government's intention to provide the homes and jobs that the next generation needs while protecting our priceless countryside.

"We will now carefully consider all the suggestions made during the consultation period."

Giving evidence to MPs today, National Trust chairman Sir Simon Jenkins today called on planning minister Greg Clark to urgently make a statement explaining what "sustainable development" meant and that the favouring of brownfield land for development - taken out of the document - was still there.

He told the Communities and Local Government Committee that the trust had been "up against some very powerful and rich people" over the reforms, which had been subject to intensive lobbying from those with interests in building.

He warned the new document - which sets out provision for neighbourhood plans for local people to steer development and local plans from councils, as well as rules set down by the national framework - did not simplify the planning system.

"I'm entirely in favour of simplification, but this is not simplification, it's making it more complicated.

"The language is so vague as to be actionable and the process itself has got new tiers layered into it."

But John Slaughter, director of external affairs at the Home Builders Federation said: "The merit of having less rather than more on paper is you avoid an overly tick-box, prescriptive approach to the planning system," which he said had contributed to the current, unwieldy situation.


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