Cameron pledges hunting vote to woo rural support

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DAVID Cameron has sought to shore up rural support by promising there will still be a vote on repealing the Hunting Act before the next election and insisting controversial planning reforms will not spell the destruction of cherished countryside.

Despite the issue of hunting dropping down the agenda amid the economic turmoil, the Prime Minister sought to reassure hunting enthusiasts he will live up to an election pledge to give MPs a free vote.

Tony Blair has since expressed regret at spending so much time pushing through the ban on hunting with dogs, which became law in 2004, and a free vote on whether to repeal it was written into the Coalition Agreement.

Asked whether he still intended to give MPs a vote on it, Mr Cameron said: “There’s no change in the position and the commitment is the commitment, and we don’t resile from that. I’m sure at some stage the vote will be held. I don’t have a timing for that.”

The Prime Minister also sought to reassure critics that the Government’s planning reforms will not mean swathes of green fields being concreted over, insisting the issue had become so controversial because of a “misunderstanding”.

More than 10,000 people have commented on the controversial reforms during a recent consultation, with many Tory MPs unhappy that the attempt to simplify 1,000 pages of guidance into just 52 has left too little protection for cherished spaces.

Criticising some coverage of the issue he said: “Because you’re taking 1,000 pages of guidance and reducing it to 50, you can always write the article that ‘because they don’t mention ancient woodland in this way they’re going to build all over ancient woodland’. Well find a local authority that wants to build all over ancient woodland.

“I think there’s a sort of misunderstanding. We’re moving from an old world of top down planning targets and very bureaucratic rules to a new world of much more local say and control and as we move from one to the other I think we might create a public confidence we can both protect the green spaces we care about and build the houses we need.”

However, during a Commons debate on planning yesterday Tory MP for Colne Valley Jason McCartney warned that the changes were “by far and away the biggest issue” in the constituency and called for several changes, particularly in demanding that developers used previously-used brownfield land before green fields.

“Whilst the aim of simplifying 1,000-plus pages to little more than 50 is laudable, residents in the beautiful countryside of the Colne and Holme valleys and Lindley fear the phrase ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’,” he said.

“Local people have interpreted that as being a developers charter for more unwanted developments on their rapidly-reducing countryside. And there’s confusion about a clear definition of what ‘sustainable’ development actually is.”