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Four times as many civil servants from the Treasury as from the environment department worked on controversial new planning reforms, Labour claimed last night
Campaigners said the disclosures appeared to confirm fears that the Treasury hijacked the planning reforms over the summer to help boost economic growth, at the expense of protecting the environment.
Figures show that four officials from the Treasury were seconded to work on the development of the draft National Planning Policy Framework.
In contrast, a single official from the Department for the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs worked on the reforms.
The framework distils 1,300 pages of planning guidance into as few as 52, and writes into the rules a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, without defining clearly what it means.
Groups including the National Trust fear that this will give developers carte blanche to build on large parts of rural England and have been fighting the plans.
The Daily Telegraph has also launched a campaign urging ministers to rethink the proposals.According to Parliamentary answers, Richard Benyon, the environment minister, told MPs that just “one official led Defra’s engagement” with the Communities department over the changes “consulting a wide range of colleagues as necessary”.
Justine Greening, the then-economic secretary to the Treasury, said this month that “four HM Treasury officials were substantively involved in its [the NPPF’s] development”.
Last night Jack Dromey, the shadow planning minister, said: “With the economy stagnating and his austerity plan hurting but not working, George Osborne instructed his officials to rewrite the planning rules in a desperate bid for growth.“The result is a planning policy that will deliver chaos not growth and that puts the English countryside at risk.
”Neil Linden, a spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The tone of the document reeks of the heavy hand of the Treasury.“We have been talking to Defra officials about how they can improve their contribution to the final drafting.”
In September Simon Marsh, one of the original architects of the NPPF, publicly turned his back on the policy.In an article in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Marsh, acting head of sustainable development at the RSPB, complained that the original proposals had been warped and changed by those in the Government “who don’t place a high value on the environment”.
The news came as it was claimed that more than 50 Tory-controlled councils are demanding changes to the NPPF.Waverley council in Surrey describes the NPPF as a “developers’ charter”.
When asked earlier about how many DCLG officials had been assigned to work on the practitioners draft the answer was zero – part from ‘secretarial support’.