Fenella Collins, head of planning at the Country Land and Business Association, said that a lack of housing, business premises and services was in danger of leaving the countryside “like Disneyland” with no future available to families and businesses.
She said young people were increasingly being driven from rural villages and hamlets to more urban areas as there simply were not the jobs and homes to keep them there – with inflexible and poorly thought-out planning laws to blame.
And she warned that, while the Government’s plans to change planning laws were a step in the right direction, there was still much work to be done before rural communities could enjoy a sustainable future.
“We need to have a level playing field,” she said. “The need for jobs, homes and services is exactly the same in rural areas as it is urban areas. However the delivery is different for these two.
“We have a desperate need for houses and work spaces in rural areas and villages, including on Green Belt land and in our National Parks. It is pushing out those people who have been born in the countryside and want to continue to live and work there and need the jobs and homes that are needed to make this happen. Some of this will have to be in Green Belt.
“Our countryside is in danger of becoming a theme park, reduced to being a mere dormitory or retirement home.”
Ms Collins was speaking as the Yorkshire Post reveals the large number of applications to build on Green Belt land in the past five years by Yorkshire councils.
And the divisive nature of such Green Belt development has been highlighted by controversial changes made by Kirklees Council this month to its planning blueprint to allow 500 homes and up to 35 hectares of business development on land at the village of Chidswell, bordering Leeds, Wakefield and Dewsbury.
The move has caused a bitter split in the local community, with campaigners accusing the Church of England of self-interest in offering some of its land in the area for potential development. The CLA has been fairly supportive of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework document, which was put out for consultation earlier this year and is expected to go before MPs in the spring.
But Ms Collins said areas of the NPPF contained provisions which would do nothing to help the countryside, highlighting a specific area which would require planners to only allow housing to be built close to local services.
“Most rural communities across England and Great Britain have lost their local services over the past few years, for the reason that they have not been able to build new houses to sustain them.”
Its new president Harry Cotterell said recently his organisation’s tacit support of the policy did not mean it “advocated concreting over the countryside” but said the vital elements of the country’s rural areas, such as landscape, biodiversity, jobs, homes and services, “must be underpinned by economic reality”.
But Claire Graves of the National Trust claimed the NPPF would lead to much more house building and pointed to the “Ghost Estates” in Ireland – large numbers of new housing estates built in rural areas which are unoccupied – as a sign of what can come with poor planning legislation.
“The NPPF wants to give a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’ but nowhere in the document is there a definition of what sustainable development is,” she said. “We would like to see this changed.”
Ms Graves added there would also be pressure on under-resourced local authorities which would have to demonstrate that the new planning laws would place a significant threat to the local environment.
The views of the Countryside Alliance were echoed in part by an influential cross-party House of Commons committee earlier this month which urged the Government to re-write its controversial planning reforms.
The report from the Communities and Local Government Select Committee called for the presumption in favour of granting permission to developers should be dropped.