Two thirds of councils in large rural areas are having their planning protections challenged by “streetwise” house builders who are “gaming” the system, according to new research from the National Trust.
The Trust’s report, Positive Planning, looked at 27 local authorities which have significant areas of countryside, and examined how they were coping with developers trying to build on greenfield sites.
All the councils had followed the rules set out under reformed planning rules dating from 2012 and had a ‘local plan’ in place which outlined how it would meet the area’s housing needs and where they would be built.
However the Trust’s research however found 16 local authorities had seen their local plans, which set out where building can and cannot take place, challenged by house-builders.
This led to developers gaining planning consent to build new estates in areas of the countryside which had never been allocated for housing by the council.
Ingrid Samuel, historic environment director of the National Trust, said: “This new evidence shows that the Government’s plan-led system is too open to challenge from streetwise developers.”
Miss Samuel accused David Cameron, the Prime Minister, of going back on his word in 2011 that local people’s views would be respected.
She said: “In 2011 The Prime Minister assured us that the new system would give local people more of a say. But it seems that in some areas the local vision for development is being bypassed. The rules need tightening to prevent this from happening. “
Miss Samuel said that the Government’s planning rule book, the National Planning Policy Framework, which distilled 1,300 pages of planning rules into just 52 had allowed builders to ignore the views of local communities.
The research found that in eight of the targeted rural authorities local plans which set out where homes can be built for five years were challenged after house building rates fell in the recession. It cited examples in Devon, Norfolk and South Cambridgeshire.
Four other authorities were also open to challenge because they extra land they had allocated was not enough to meet their ambitious housing targets.
Miss Samuel added: “Sadly the NPPF is allowing developers to ignore the local communities it said would be at the very heart of its new approach.
“The communities we looked at are those that accepted the Government’s challenge, and have made difficult choices about where new housing should – and shouldn’t – go.
“Whilst we support the principle of building on brownfield land first, we recognise the need to build some homes in the countryside.
“But homes should only be built where land has been allocated for development by the local council and is supported by the local community.”
The creation of the NPPF was fought by the National Trust, along with readers of the Daily Telegraph, amid fears that it relaxed protections and introduced a “presumption of substainable development” into planning rules.
Since the NPPF’s introduction the Government has attempted to reassure people living in rural areas that their neighbourhoods will not be over exploited by developers.
In August, Brandon Lewis, the Planning and Housing minister, unveiled a £200million fund for towns and cities to prepare “brownfield” sites for new homes, to take the pressure off the countryside.
He said in a statement: “There remains strong protection of the countryside and Green Belt. The best way for councils to send speculative developers packing is to have an up to date Local Plan. Eighty per cent of councils now have a published Local Plan.”
How can Brandon Lerwis lie through his teerth about ‘strong protection for the countryside’ when the NPPF removed it.