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