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MEP to sign National Trust Petition

The growing opposition to the Government’s controversial planning reforms takes another step forward on Friday 9 September as MEP for the East of England; Richard Howitt signs the National Trust’s petition at Lavenham Guildhall in Suffolk. The petition aims to show the Government just how strongly opposed people are to plans that could change the face of England forever.

The National Trust has expressed its concern over confused messages from Government about its controversial planning changes and other organisations such as English Heritage, RSPB, CPRE and wildlife trusts have all come out recently in a bid to encourage the Government to think again.

Through the NPPF, the Government is attempting to produce a “new, simpler framework for the planning system that safeguards the environment while meeting the need for sustainable growth.”

But despite the warm noises in their press release, the Government’s focus throughout the document is on economic growth above all else. It sends the dangerous message that schemes that promise profit alone will be enough to get planning permission.

Richard Powell, Director of the East of England says; “The National Trust believes in growth – it is vital that we get our economy moving. But it can’t be growth at any cost. Development must pass a ‘triple bottom line’ test – by showing that it meets the needs of people and the environment as well as the economy. And we believe that a planning policy is not the engine for economic growth; that’s far too simplistic an approach at best and potentially dissembling at worst.

“The draft policy makes it clear that development is to be encouraged at any price, even urging local authorities to promote more development than is in the plan and to over-allocate land for housing. Rather than localism in action, the coalition is trying to steamroller through legislation that poses the biggest threat to communities since the 1930s.”

The removal of much detailed guidance to local authorities leaves too much power in the hands of developers who will only need to show that their proposals will deliver growth for other important considerations, such as the impact on communities, nature and landscape, to be pushed aside.

Richard Howitt MEP, and former local council planning committee chair said:

“I am deeply worried that in a short-sighted rush to encourage developers to build the Government will carry out an unforgivable act of environmental vandalism.

“The Government’s plans mean that the default answer to any proposed development will be ‘yes’. This sounds the death-knell to the principle established in the 1940s that the planning system should be used to protect what is most special in the landscape.

“Lavenham is a beautiful village famed for its wealth of timber-framed buildings. The surrounding countryside also contains important, varied and beautiful grassland, woodland and rivers. Paradoxically Government plans could harm the economy as spoiling Suffolk could sabotage tourism.

“Let us protect Suffolk for the next generation.”

Local people will have to rely on a development plan to protect what they treasure and shape where development should go. Yet only 47% of local authorities have development plans (‘core strategies’) in place and many local authorities and neighbourhood groups do not have the resources to create such plans that integrate social, environmental and economic considerations. If there is no up-to-date development plan, planning applications risk automatically getting consent. At the same time there are over 70,000 empty homes in England whilst developers and supermarkets have land bought and ‘banked’ in the hope of future planning permission.

The National Trust believes that the town and country planning system; while not perfect, has served the country well. It has enabled growth by guiding development to the places that need it, while protecting open countryside, preventing sprawl and safeguarding designated areas and historic buildings.

Those planning principles remain as necessary today as when they were first established and weakening protection now risks a return to the threat of sprawl and uncontrolled development that so dominated public debate in the 1930s.

Richard Powell continued; “The Government’s proposals allow financial considerations to dominate, and with this comes huge risk to our countryside, historic environment and the precious local places that people value.

“The National Trust shares the Government’s commitment to localism but it has got the changes to planning wrong. We urge a rethink of the NPPF before we throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

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