Stunning new maps show countryside at risk
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) today launches a report with detailed new maps showing that 55 per cent of England’s countryside could be at increased risk from development as a consequence of the Government’s reforms of the planning system. This equates to an area almost three-and-a-half times the size of Wales .
Excluding areas with nationally recognised designations, such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), as well as Green Belt, CPRE found that the majority of England’s countryside could be at increased risk of development and urban sprawl .
For decades English planning policy has recognised the intrinsic value of the wider countryside, including undesignated areas. The draft National Planning Policy Framework, which is due to be finalised shortly, omits such a policy. At most risk is countryside in the East Midlands with 73 per cent of its area undesignated, followed by the East of England with 66 per cent undesignated.
The Prime Minister recently described west Oxfordshire as “one of the most beautiful parts of our country, set in some of England’s finest countryside” and stated that he would “no more put that at risk than I would put at risk my own family” . This strength of feeling is welcomed by CPRE, but 55 per cent of the Prime Minister’s constituency will be at greater risk unless his Government amends the draft NPPF to include recognition of the importance of the wider, undesignated countryside.
CPRE’s research shows that, out of the top 150 constituencies with the most ordinary countryside at risk, five are held by Cabinet Ministers, including the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire constituency of Witney. Conservative MPs hold 118 of the 150 most at risk constituencies, 14 are held by Liberal Democrats and 17 by Labour. One of the constituencies is Buckingham which is held by the Speaker John Bercow.
Download the full report for further constituency data
Fiona Howie, Head of Planning at CPRE, says: “We are pleased that the Government’s planning reforms will retain protections for specially designated countryside. But Ministers have provided no reassurance that the final NPPF will recognise the value of the wider, undesignated countryside that makes up more than half of England’s rural landscape.
“We are not seeking a national policy that would prevent all development. But if we are to avoid damaging the character of rural areas by making it easier for inappropriate, speculative building to take place – a bungalow here, a distribution shed there – decision makers must be encouraged to take account of the intrinsic value of the wider countryside when considering development proposals. The imminent changes to the planning system should ensure that it is not only the specially designated areas that are valued.”
CPRE’s mapping of these areas show that many of England’s most attractive landscapes are not covered by nationally recognised designations or up to date local plans. And some areas of countryside are dependent on local plan protection which, in the absence of a supportive national policy, might not stand up to pressure from inappropriate development proposals. England’s undesignated countryside includes:
- the large majority of Cornwall, North and East Devon;
- the Pennine slopes east of Macclesfield;
- North-west Dorset and South Somerset;
- the Welcombe hills north of Stratford-upon-Avon;
- the riverbank west of Knaresborough;
- the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire and North Hampshire;
- the Sussex Lower Weald;
- the Gog Magog Hills south of Cambridge;
- most of Romney Marsh;
- the Garden of England, South of Maidstone and North of the North Downs;
- ‘Midsomer’ England in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire; and,
- the village of Hanbury in Worcestershire – the basis for the fictional BBC village of Ambridge from the Archers.
Fiona Howie concluded: “If Ministers value the English countryside as a whole this should be reflected in the new national planning policies. It would be risky to rely solely on any local protection for the wider countryside, the status of which is extremely uncertain . Without national support, any protection local plans give to the wider countryside is likely to be challenged by developers. It’s important the Government gets this policy right first time round to avoid unnecessary damage to the countryside as the planning reforms are implemented on the ground.”
Notes to Editors
 Total English Countryside area – 46,861 mi2, Total unprotected countryside area – 26,153 mi2, Total area of Wales – 7,722 mi2
 CPRE, Protecting the wider countryside – Mapping the potential impact of the National Planning Policy Framework, 06/02/12
 Stated by David Cameron in an interview on BBC’s Countryfile on 8 January 2012
 The Government has argued that local planning authorities will be able to protect the countryside through local plans if they wish to. However, as currently written, the draft National Planning Policy Framework would override local plan policies where they were ‘out of date’. Without further clarification from Government about the implementation of the proposed ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development this means that the status and weight of local plan polices is uncertain. The Government’s proposed local green space designation is untested and will not be an adequate alternative to an effective national policy.
NYT pick up on this story
Across the country, activists with ties to the Tea Party are railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities.
They are showing up at planning meetings to denounce bike lanes on public streets and smart meters on home appliances — efforts they equate to a big-government blueprint against individual rights.
“Down the road, this data will be used against you,” warned one speaker at a recent Roanoke County, Va., Board of Supervisors meeting who turned out with dozens of people opposed to the county’s paying $1,200 in dues to a nonprofit that consults on sustainability issues.
Local officials say they would dismiss such notions except that the growing and often heated protests are having an effect.
In Maine, the Tea Party-backed Republican governor canceled a project to ease congestion along the Route 1 corridor after protesters complained it was part of the United Nations plot. Similar opposition helped doom a high-speed train line in Florida. And more than a dozen cities, towns and counties, under new pressure, have cut off financing for a program that offers expertise on how to measure and cut carbon emissions.
“It sounds a little on the weird side, but we’ve found we ignore it at our own peril,” said George Homewood, a vice president of the American Planning Association’s chapter in Virginia.
The protests date to 1992 when the United Nations passed a sweeping, but nonbinding, 100-plus-page resolution called Agenda 21 that was designed to encourage nations to use fewer resources and conserve open land by steering development to already dense areas. They have gained momentum in the past two years because of the emergence of the Tea Party movement, harnessing its suspicion about government power and belief that man-made global warming is a hoax.
In January, the Republican Party adopted its own resolution against what it called “the destructive and insidious nature” of Agenda 21. And Newt Gingrich took aim at it during a Republican debate in November.
Tom DeWeese, the founder of the American Policy Center, a Warrenton, Va.-based foundation that advocates limited government, says he has been a leader in the opposition to Agenda 21 since 1992. Until a few years ago, he had few followers beyond a handful of farmers and ranchers in rural areas. Now, he is a regular speaker at Tea Party events.
Membership is rising, Mr. DeWeese said, because what he sees as tangible Agenda 21-inspired controls on water and energy use are intruding into everyday life. “People may be acting out at some of these meetings, and I do not condone that. But their elected representatives are not listening and they are frustrated.”
Fox News has also helped spread the message. In June, after President Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Rural Council to “enhance federal engagement with rural communities,” Fox programs linked the order to Agenda 21. A Fox commentator, Eric Bolling, said the council sounded “eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one world order.”
The movement has been particularly effective in Tea Party strongholds like Virginia, Florida and Texas, but the police have been called in to contain protests in states including Maryland and California, where opponents are fighting laws passed in recent years to encourage development around public transportation hubs and dense areas in an effort to save money and preserve rural communities.
One group has become a particular target. Iclei — Local Governments for Sustainability USA, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit, sells software and offers advice to communities looking to reduce their carbon footprints. A City Council meeting in Missoula, Mont., in December got out of hand and required police intervention over $1,200 in dues to Iclei.
At a Board of Supervisors meeting in Roanoke in late January, Cher McCoy, a Tea Party member from nearby Lexington, Va., generated sustained applause when she warned: “They get you hooked, and then Agenda 21 takes over. Your rights are stripped one by one.”
Echoing other protesters, Ms. McCoy identified smart meters, devices being installed by utility companies to collect information on energy use, as part of the conspiracy. “The real job of smart meters is to spy on you and control you — when you can and cannot use electrical appliances,” she said.
Ilana Preuss, vice president of Smart Growth America, a national coalition of nonprofits that supports economic development while conserving open spaces and farmland, said, “The real danger is not that they will get rid of some piece of software from Iclei” but that “people will be too scared to have a conversation about local development. And that is an important conversation to be having.”
In some cases, the protests have not been large, but they are powerful because officials are concerned about the Tea Party.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Gingrich has called Agenda 21 an important issue and has said, “I would explicitly repudiate what Obama has done on Agenda 21.”
The Republican National Committee resolution, passed without fanfare on Jan. 13, declared, “The United Nations Agenda 21 plan of radical so-called ‘sustainable development’ views the American way of life of private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership and individual travel choices, and privately owned farms; all as destructive to the environment.”Other conservatives have welcomed the scrutiny of land-use issues, but they do not agree with the emphasis on Agenda 21.
Jeremy Rabkin, a professor of law at George Mason University specializing in sovereignty issues, said there were “entirely legitimate concerns about international standards that come into American law without formal ratification by the Senate.”
But some local officials argue that the programs that protesters see as part of the conspiracy are entirely created by local governments with the express intent of saving money — the central goal of the Tea Party movement.
Planning groups, several of which said they had never heard of Agenda 21 until protesters burst in, are counterorganizing.
Summer Frederick, the project manager for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission in Charlottesville, Va., which withdrew its dues to Iclei and its support from a national mayors’ agreement on climate change late last year after a campaign by protesters, now conducts seminars on how to deal with Agenda 21 critics. (Among her tips: remove the podium and microphones, which can make it “very easy for a critic to hijack a meeting.”)
Roanoke’s Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to renew its Iclei financing after many residents voiced their support.
“The Tea Party people say they want nonpolluted air and clean water and everything we promote and support, but they also say it’s a communist movement,” said Charlotte Moore, a supervisor who voted yes. “I really don’t understand what they want.”
Whilst the Sunday Telegraph has published the full letter they haven’t published the appendix with the NPPF changes they requested. Thanks to Conservative Home though we have it.
We also are worried that the new National Planning Policy Framework, in its current form, diminishes the chances of local people defeating unwanted on-shore wind farm proposals through the planning system. Thus we attach some subtle amendments to the existing wording that we believe will help rebalance the system.
Finally, recent planning appeals have approved wind farm developments with the inspectors citing renewable energy targets as being more important than planning considerations. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that it is impossible to defeat applications through the planning system. We would urge you to ensure that planning inspectors know that the views of local people and long established planning requirements should always be taken into account.
CHRIS HEATON-HARRIS MP AND 105 OTHER MPs”
The appendix goes on, I highlight in bold the key suggested changes:
Appendix 1 to the letter: Suggested amendments to paragraphs 152 and 153 of the NPPF
152. To help increase the use and supply of renewable and low-carbon energy, local planning authorities should recognise the responsibility on all communities to contribute to energy generation from renewable or low-carbon sources. They should:
- have a positive strategy to promote energy from renewable and low-carbon sources, including deep geothermal energy;
- design their policies to maximise renewable and low-carbon energy development while ensuring that adverse impacts are addressed satisfactorily;
- identify suitable areas for renewable and low-carbon energy sources, and supporting infrastructure, where this would help secure the development of such sources and achieve an appropriate balance between environmental, social and economic objectives, including in particular the contribution of the rural landscape and heritage assets to economic development – See Footnote;
- support community-led initiatives for renewable and low carbon energy, including developments outside such areas being taken forward through neighbourhood planning; and
- identify opportunities where development can draw its energy supply from decentralised, renewable or low carbon energy supply systems and for co-locating potential heat customers and suppliers.
153. When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the presumption in favour of sustainable development and in doing so should take full account of the requirements set out in paragraph 152 and the footnote and:
- not require applicants for energy development to demonstrate the overall need for renewable or low-carbon energy, recognising that overall compliance with national EU obligations as a whole is not a material consideration in relation to the acceptability of specific locations, and also recognise that even small-scale projects provide a valuable contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions;
- approve the application if its impacts are (or can be made) acceptable. Once opportunity areas for renewable and low-carbon energy have been mapped in plans, local planning authorities should also expect subsequent applications for commercial scale projects outside these areas to demonstrate compelling reasons why development should take place outside such areas; and
- identify and weigh all the separate forms of harm to other interests of acknowledged importance that would be likely to arise, including significant heritage assets, and ensure that development would provide wider benefits that would clearly outweigh the sum total of all the harm identified.
Footnote: In assessing the likely impacts of potential wind energy development in broad areas, and in determining planning applications for such development, including all non-domestic schemes irrespective of their scale, planning authorities should follow the approach set out in the National Policy Statement for Renewable Energy Infrastructure (read with the relevant sections of the Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy Infrastructure, including that on aviation impacts). Where plans identify areas as suitable for renewable and low-carbon energy development, they should make clear what criteria have determined their selection, including for what size of development the areas are considered suitable.
In essence, even for a broad supporter of utility scale turbines such as myself the thrust of the suggestions are in the right direction. More stress on the weighing and balancing of issues of harm is needed in the NPPF, and of the value of the broader landscape and mitigation and minimisation of unnecessary harm to it. Indeed it might not be necessary to stress these factors so much here if the NPPF as a whole was better balanced.
The wording though ‘ensure that development would provide wider benefits that would clearly outweigh the sum total of all the harm identified.’ would change a imbalanced presumption in favour of development to an imbalenced presumption against it. Benefits and harm need to be equals.
The risk though is that as worded these amendments could lead to an impass on each and every site with individual decisions based on the subjective wim of individual inspectors. A situation which satisfies no-one. It is surely acceptable to have a broad policy on favour of windfarms but protecting and minimising harm to the most important and sensitive landscapes whether nationally designated or not. A good example being the Haworth fells associated with the Bronte sisters, or the windfarm recently proposed threatening the village of Inberrow (the model for the Archers village of Ambridge).
Reform ‘risk to 55% of countryside’
More than half of England’s countryside will be at greater risk of urban sprawl under proposed changes to the planning system, rural advocates claim.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) issued the warning as it published detailed maps of areas vulnerable to development. They mark 55% of land – outside of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belt – as being under threat.
The largest swathes are in the East Midlands (73%) and the East of England (66%) as well as 55% in Oxfordshire where Prime Minister David Cameron has his constituency. Defending the planning reforms recently, Mr Cameron said of his local countryside that he would “no more put that at risk than I would put at risk my own family”.
However the CPRE insisted that commitment would be meaningless without changes to the new rules being proposed by his Government. Seats held by Tory MPs were overwhelmingly the most threatened, it said, making up 118 out of the top 150, with 14 Liberal Democrat and 17 Labour.
CPRE head of planning Fiona Howie said: “Ministers have provided no reassurance that the final NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) will recognise the value of the wider, undesignated countryside that makes up more than half of England’s rural landscape.
“We are not seeking a national policy that would prevent all development. But if we are to avoid damaging the character of rural areas by making it easier for inappropriate, speculative building to take place – a bungalow here, a distribution shed there – decision-makers must be encouraged to take account of the intrinsic value of the wider countryside.”
Ministers say the changes to simplify the planning system, reducing more than 1,000 pages of policy to just 52 and which focus on a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, are needed to boost growth, give communities more say in their local area and protect the environment.
However a committee of MPs recently complained that they appeared to put more emphasis on economic growth than the environment or society and risked poorly planned or unsustainable development. The draft reforms have provoked a storm of protest, including from major countryside groups such as the National Trust.
Planning minister Bob Neill said: “The Government is 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.
“The planning system has always enshrined the principle that the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development should be considered in a balanced way – and it will continue to do so. The framework also aims to strengthen local decision-making and reinforce the importance of local plans. It was always our intention to ensure that appropriate transitional arrangements are in place before the new framework comes into force.”
More than half the British countryside at risk of ‘urban sprawl’ if planning laws are relaxed, campaigners warn
Urban sprawl will threaten more than half of England’s countryside under a proposed relaxation of the planning system, it was claimed today.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England issued the warning as it published detailed maps of areas vulnerable to development.
They mark 55 per cent of land – outside of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belt – as being under threat.
The largest swathes are in the East Midlands (73 per cent) and the East of England (66 per cent) as well as 55 per cent in Oxfordshire where Prime Minister David Cameron has his constituency.
Defending the planning reforms recently, Mr Cameron said of his local countryside that he would ‘no more put that at risk than I would put at risk my own family’.
But the CPRE insisted that commitment would be meaningless without changes to the new rules being proposed by his Government.
Seats held by Tory MPs were overwhelmingly the most threatened, it said, making up 118 out of the top 150, with 14 Liberal Democrat and 17 Labour.
CPRE head of planning Fiona Howie said: ‘Ministers have provided no reassurance that the final NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) will recognise the value of the wider, undesignated countryside that makes up more than half of England’s rural landscape.
‘We are not seeking a national policy that would prevent all development.
‘But if we are to avoid damaging the character of rural areas by making it easier for inappropriate, speculative building to take place – a bungalow here, a distribution shed there – decision-makers must be encouraged to take account of the intrinsic value of the wider countryside.’
Ministers say the changes to simplify the planning system, reducing more than 1,000 pages of policy to just 52 and which focus on a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’, are needed to boost growth, give communities more say in their local area and protect the environment.
But a committee of MPs recently complained that they appeared to put more emphasis on economic growth than the environment or society and risked poorly planned or unsustainable development.
The draft reforms have provoked a storm of protest, including from major countryside groups such as the National Trust.
Planning minister Bob Neill said: ‘The Government is 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.
‘The planning system has always enshrined the principle that the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development should be considered in a balanced way – and it will continue to do so.
‘The framework also aims to strengthen local decision-making and reinforce the importance of local plans.
‘It was always our intention to ensure that appropriate transitional arrangements are in place before the new framework comes into force.’
Attractive areas not to be covered by specific designations or protected only by local strategies included:
- The large majority of Cornwall and parts of north and east Devon
- Pennine slopes east of Macclesfield
- Welcombe hills north of Stratford-upon-Avon, the riverbank west of Knaresborough
- Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire and North Hampshire
- Sussex Lower Weald
- Gog Magog Hills south of Cambridge
- Romney Marsh
- The Garden of England, south of Maidstone and north of the North Downs
- ‘Midsomer’ England in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire
- The village of Hanbury in Worcestershire – the basis for fictional Ambridge in the BBC radio soap opera The Archers
More than half of England’s countryside is under threat from ‘inappropriate development’ due to proposed changes to national planning policy, according to a new report.
The report, Protecting the wider countryside by campaign group the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), concluded that, if the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is unamended, only 49 per cent of the countryside in England – that is, land covered by a nationally recognised designation – will receive some level of protection from inappropriate development.
The research found that the area of England unprotected by nationally recognised designations is 6.7 million hectares, or 51 per cent of England. It added that, when urban land is discounted, 55 per cent of the English countryside is unprotected.
The report said the NPPF proposed removing the recognition of the “intrinsic value” of the countryside from the planning system.
“The draft NPPF proposes removing a critical policy which recognises the national importance of the countryside as a whole,” it added.
“This policy has been formally in place for more than 25 years, and has enabled the wider countryside to be protected from inappropriate development.”
The report said that, while the government had argued that there was no need for a national policy recognising the intrinsic value of the wider countryside as local plans would be able to protect local land as appropriate, there was a concern that local plans must have regard to national policy and could therefore be challenged.
In addition, the report argued that there was uncertainty about whether local plans will still be valid, or up-to-date, following the introduction of the final NPPF.
“Where up-to-date local plan coverage is patchy, much of the English countryside would be vulnerable to inappropriate development in the absence of a national policy,” the report said.
Protecting the wider countryside can be read here.
Updated to include reference to the two select committee reports, but not on the first page, as the Localism Act now has royal assent.