Clegg should plan for future

ACCUSATIONS from countryside campaigners that Nick Clegg has abandoned his green principles in favour of chasing an economic quick-fix will inevitably sting the leader of a party which has long prided itself on its environmental credentials.

After all, Mr Clegg need only point to the work being done by his controversial colleague Chris Huhne in the Department for Energy and Climate Change as an example of how the Liberal Democrats are standing up to backbench Conservatives and the Treasury to push through green reforms – including key energy schemes that will have huge benefits for Yorkshire.

That said, rural activists will not be quick to forgive either ruling party if their worst fears about the impact this planning shake-up will have on Britain’s treasured green spaces are realised.

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The problems for the Conservatives with this contentious piece of legislation are manifold.

On the one hand, having failed to secure a majority at the last election, they can ill afford to alienate their core support in the way these proposals threaten to do. On the other, David Cameron will not want to be seen making yet another policy u-turn after suffering so many damaging retreats during his first 18 months as Prime Minister.

Mr Cameron must accept, however, that the current problem is one entirely of his own party’s making.

The crux of the matter lies in the way a key phrase – “sustainable development” – and now given a presumption of acceptance in planning disputes has been left open to such wide interpretation.

Clearly, few would argue that truly sustainable development is a bad thing – and so the phrase offers Ministers a convenient shelter as their policies come under heavy fire. But it is all too easy to picture large developers using this catch-all phrase to justify almost any kind of development, riding rough-shod over the will of local councils and residents alike.

With opposition mounting on all sides, it is clear that the Government must offer some sort of concession – at the very least, further clarity of the sort demanded by MPs this week.

If Mr Clegg can claim such a victory as his own, he will go a long way to convincing green campaigners that having his party in coalition has not proved such a bad result after all.