Battlecry on shrinking countryside

A CAMPAIGN opposing “unsustainable and increasing” pressure to build houses in the English countryside is being launched by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

There is mounting evidence that planning reforms under the National Planning Policy Framework are failing to deliver the housing that people need and are instead causing harm to communities and landscapes, the CPRE says.

A year after the policy’s introduction, the CPRE says that local authorities are allowing unprecedented building on greenfield land, including the green belt, which is undermining development in towns and cities.

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Sir Andrew Motion, president of the CPRE, said: “Precisely at the moment when we should be defending the countryside, and making it more accessible because it gives us all what we need more freely than anything else under the sun – we are at grave risk of losing it.”

The CPRE believes sensible planning is being undermined by a short-sighted pursuit of economic growth at any cost and it has put together a three-point charter to save the countryside.

The charter calls for previously developed brownfield land to be re-used first to protect the beauty and tranquillity of the countryside and breathe new life into towns and cities; a planning system that gives communities a stronger say in the future of their area, and more affordable homes, located sensitively including in villages and market towns, with excellent environmental standards and high quality design that enhances local character.

The loss of previously untouched land to development has reached an average of 67 sq km every year since 1989, the CPRE says, and an analysis of emerging and adopted Local Plans finds that there are at least 500,000 new houses are planned to be built on greenfield sites.

If these houses were built at the average densities of recent years it would result in the further
loss of over 150 sq km of green fields, campaigners say, despite there being brownfield sites available for more than 1.5 million homes.

Shaun Spiers, CPRE’s chief executive, said: “A beautiful countryside, better places to live and economic prosperity all rely on good planning, which in turn depends on giving people a proper say in what development should go where.

“CPRE’s charter to save our countryside points the way to a planning system that can deliver the development the country needs, in the right places and with popular consent.

“The Government wants quality development and it wants to look after the countryside, but it is in denial about the impact its policies are having across England.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Our reforms are totally focussed on better development and on building the homes we urgently need in a way that safeguards and protects the countryside and the green belt.

“Local people have more power than ever to decide which sites will be used for development and which they want protected. This can be done at a neighbourhood level and more widely by ensuring locally-determined Local Plans are at the heart of the planning system.

“We have abolished top-down Whitehall targets and scrapped the last administration’s Regional Strategies that threatened to remove green belt protection in 30 towns and cities across the country.”

Politicians from across the political spectrum are backing the CPRE’s charter, including Labour’s Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts, Conservative MPs Nick Herbert and Zac Goldsmith, Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood and Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

To launch the Charter, the CPRE is set to hold a campaign event in Westminster tomorrow involving politicians and local action groups.