If those living in the countryside have been able to rely on one thing, it is that the stunning scenery outside their homes has endured in aspic for decades.
However controversial planning reforms threaten to spoil that serenity in the form of tens of thousands of new homes despite local opposition, campaigners claimed today.
Under the rules, councils have to identify a five-year supply of land to meet demand for new properties in their area.
But the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said there were problems in setting targets for how many new homes are needed in different localities, and where councils fail to prove they have a five-year land supply they risk having decisions against major housing schemes overturned by government planning inspectors.
A report for the CPRE looked at 309 appeals against rejected planning applications for major housing developments, of 10 or more properties, on greenfield land around the country.
It found planning inspectors overturned council decisions in 72 per cent of cases where local authorities could not demonstrate a five-year land supply and led to almost 27,000 homes being given planning permission against local authority wishes.
The CPRE wants changes to the national planning policy framework (NPPF) to prevent developers bypassing local democracy to get the go-ahead for building in the countryside.
John Rowley, planning officer at the CPRE, said: “These figures show that current policy is encouraging unnecessary house building in the countryside against the wishes of local people.
“We need to see a more transparent and less punitive system which does not allow unrealistic housing targets to override local concerns.”
He also criticised how areas which have struggled to meet land targets are forced to increase their supply of land by 20 per cent as a “buffer” to ensure choice and competition is available.
“The Government should remove the automatic presumption for development where there is no five-year land supply,” Mr Rowley said. “It should also immediately stop demanding an extra 20 per cent housing requirement from councils already struggling to meet targets.
“We support the Government’s desire to simplify planning and meet the urgent need for new homes. Yet councils must be provided with detailed guidance on housing targets, and brownfield land must be prioritised so that unnecessary greenfield development is not so blatantly and regularly allowed through the back door.”
David Rose, chairman of the CPRE in Yorkshire and Humber, said he had been contacted by a large number of residents concerned about inappropriate development, with the Craven a particular hotspot.
Some local authorities had been slow in setting out land supply targets in Local Plans which had left greenfield sites vulnerable to development, he said.
“Yorkshire is a wonderful county with marvellous countryside and we rely on our rural economy for tourism, but local opinion is being overridden,” Mr Rose said. “Where local authorities haven’t had a Local Plan in place developers have used the NPPF to build on greenfield sites.”
Planning Minister Brandon Lewis said the level of Green Belt development is at its lowest rate since modern records began in 1989.
He added: “We are implementing measures to bring forward up to 200,000 new homes on brownfield land and councils should be using their powers and the support that’s available from the Government to prioritise development on these sites, work with the local community and defend our valuable countryside against urban sprawl.”