Ephemicropolis – A Staple City by Artist Peter Root
Ephemicropolis – A Staple City by Artist Peter Root
QUAINT towns and villages, wonderful wide open spaces and spectacular scenery in Worcestershire could be under threat from inappropriate development, according to rural advocates, a local planning chief and an MP.
Concerns are rising that large parts of luscious landscape across the county could be spoilt by developers taking the easy option to build on greenfield sites instead of brownfield ones unless potential policy changes are tightened.
The coalition Government is keen to simplify the planning system by reducing more than 1,000 pages of policy to just 52 because it believes that is the best way to boost growth.
While designations, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belt, will still be recognised, fears are growing places like Hanbury and Inkberrow – which both claim to be the basis for fictional Ambridge in the BBC radio soap opera The Archers – will be at greater risk of urban sprawl if the revised National Planning Policy Framework does not give more explicit consideration to unprotected countryside.
Paul O’Connor, development services manager at Worcester City Council, said: “That has to be a concern.”
He said planning authorities need clear guidance so local development plans can be drawn up accordingly and added ambiguity could see more councils’ decisions being challenged, potentially costing taxpayers thousands of pounds if overturned.
Mr O’Connor also said: “At times of policy change decisions are made with uncertainty and at times of uncertainty there are sometimes decisions around the country which, in hindisight, we reflect upon and possibly see in a different way.”
Ministers are adamant the simpler planning system will not result in inappropriate development but the draft reforms have provoked a storm of protest while a committee of MPs recently complained that the policy changes appear to put more emphasis on economic growth than the environment.
According to research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), about 78 per cent of the West Worcestershire constituency – which covers the Malvern Hills and towns such as Pershore and Tenbury Wells – could be under threat.
Harriett Baldwin, the Conservative MP who represents that area, is concerned and wants land to be clearly designated in the South Worcestershire Development Plan – the blueprint for how the districts of Worcester, Wychavon and Malvern will be able to accommodate up to 20,000 new homes, as well as employment land and other infrastructure, over the next two decades – while she has also requested that the Area of Outstanding National Beauty be extended to cover more of the Malvern Hills area.
“I believe that these measures, if adopted, would go some way towards preventing the urban sprawl into our precious countryside,” she said.
While the CPRE has put forward a number of recommendations to Government, officers insist they are not seeking to prevent development, just protect the character of rural areas, and Mr O’Connor said it will be interesting to see whether they were taken on board.
“If not then it’s going to be interesting,” he said.
More than a third of Sussex’s countryside will be at greater risk of urban sprawl under proposed changes to the planning system, rural advocates claim.
Twenty-two percent of East Sussex and 13% of West Sussex will be at risk of urban development, The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said.
Previously Government planning policy has recognised undesignated areas of land. But the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which is due to be finalised shortly, does not.
Arun villages and towns north of Bognor are at risk, including Yapton, Shripney Flansham, Nyetimber, Mundham, Walberton.
Around Chichester, villages and towns including Tangmere, Oving, Hunston and Birdham are at risk.
The Crawley area is largely safe, although Faygate includes some at risk areas.
Horsham areas at risk include Billingshurst and surrounding villages, including Dial Post, Partridge Green, Barns Green and Bucks Green.
Large areas of Mid Sussex are deemed Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and are as such safe. But an area close to Wivelsfield, near Burgess Hill, is at risk.
The Worthing and Adur areas are also largely safe, although Sompting has some areas at risk.
In East Sussex areas at risk include significant sections of Lewes district, including Chailey, Plumpton Green, Framfield, Uckfield and Barcombe.
Sections to the north of Eastbourne district are at risk and large parts of Rother and Wealden are protected because they are Areas of Natural Beauty.
Brighton and Hove is either urban or South Downs National Park and most of Hastings is safe as it is urban The South Downs National Park is not at risk.
CPRE head of planning Fiona Howie said: “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 decision-makers must be encouraged to take account of the intrinsic value of the wider countryside.”
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