A story we first broke yesterday
Natural England, English Heritage to be forced to promote more building
Government agencies which are meant to protect the countryside are to be forced to encourage more building in rural areas, under new plans.
The Government is also planning to cut the length of time it takes for planning applications to be decided, and remove a raft of protections for listed buildings.
Last night campaigners said the change “could enable developers to ride roughshod over the countryside and the views of local people”.
Under the plans, the Environment agency, Natural England and English Heritage will have a new “remit” to promote “sustainable development”. The Government said this would mean that the agencies would have to “contribute to a competitive business environment”.
They would have to consider “the impact of their decisions upon sustainable economic growth, and the viability of what may be economically significant projects” and assist with “swiftly approving planning consents when it is appropriate to do so”.
Ministers are already under fire for plans to reduce 1,300 pages of planning guidance into just 52, and include a new requirement on local planning officers to make sure any planning decisions promote “sustainable development”.
Campaigners fear this requirement, which is not clearly defined, will give builders a licence to develop rural areas of England, against the wishes of local people. The Daily Telegraph has also launched a campaign calling for a re-think.
The plans were set out by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is implementing recommendations from a review by Adrian Penfold, an executive at property developer British Land.
Other measures include a new 13 week time limit on planning permissions to ensure they do not get bogged down in local opposition, and a lifting of some restrictions on the development of the 375,000 listed buildings.
The Government said that in future “only those parts of a building that contribute to its special interest are protected by regulation, removing the requirement to apply for a consent for works that impact other parts of the building”.
The changes were flagged up by Chancellor George Osborne during his Autumn statement on Tuesday, but only published in detail yesterday.
Mr Osborne said: “Our planning reforms strike the right balance between protecting our countryside while permitting economic development that creates jobs. But we need to go further to remove the lengthy delays and high costs of the current system, with new time limits on applications.”
Property developers were pleased with the changes. Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We’re delighted to see the recommendations in the Penfold Review put into place, particularly the encouragement on key consenting and advisory agencies to promote sustainable development. We welcome the introduction of a timescale and the clarity and certainty that it should bring.”
However, environment campaigners accused the Department for Business of “playing [a role] in undermining environmental and countryside protections.
Neil Sinden, director of policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “Time and again we hear that the economic departments are really calling the shots over the Government’s planning reforms. The Government appears determined to make every organisation a tool for promoting its ill-defined notion of ‘sustainable development’.
“Unless there are explicit environmental safeguards, it could enable developers to ride roughshod over the countryside and the views of local people. By making these agencies a tool for promoting development, their critical role as champions of our landscape, wildlife and heritage is undermined.
“They do not exist to promote development; they are there to make sure any proposed development does not destroy our national treasures and environmental support structures.”
Mary Creagh, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, added: “ The Autumn Statement shows the Tory-led Government is out of touch with everyone who cares about our countryside.
“Natural England and the Environment Agency were established to protect our environment, yet now the Chancellor is exposing them to costly legal appeals from developers.
““The Government has already tried to sell off our forests, and is now unpicking the laws that protect Britain’s habitats, wildlife, air and water quality. Good environmental regulations have created thousands of green jobs over the last ten years.
“Tuesday’s statement showed the Chancellor has no idea how the green economy works.”
Last night a spokesman for the Department for Business said: “It is important that other government agencies and bodies formalise a consistent approach to sustainable development, taking into account economic, social and environmental factors.
“Planning reforms will set out clear protections to ensure inappropriate development is not approved.”