Beauty spots across region ‘put at risk by changes in planning’

A HOST of important sites in Yorkshire’s countryside risk being spoilt if the Government fails to revise its planning reforms, the Campaign to Protect Rural England has claimed.

A controversial bid to install five giant wind turbines at Sheephouse Heights on the edge of the Peak District National Park which was defeated by campaigners in 2009 could be resurrected and forced through under the Government’s draft planning guidance, the campaign group fears.

Communities would also have little power to resist applications for large warehouses at Bradholme Farm, south of Thorne near Doncaster, the CPRE claims.

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And they say the guidance would make it far easier for the Chinese-themed attraction dubbed Visions of China to get the go-ahead on Rother Valley Country Park. Despite the project having council support, campaigners warn it is “not appropriate” for the site.

The claims are likely to be fiercely contested by Ministers, who insist they want to simplify planning rules without weakening protection for the environment, but in written evidence to a Commons inquiry on the issue, the CPRE nationally said the current draft national planning policy framework (NPPF) was “not fit for purpose”.

“We support the Government’s aims to promote localism and consolidate national planning policy,” it said. “In our view, however, the draft NPPF is deeply flawed and puts ordinary, undesignated countryside at risk from inappropriate development by weakening existing policies.”

Ministers are considering responses submitted to a consultation on the NPPF and have offered to go through the draft guidance “line by line” with critics and come up with a form of words to ease their fears.

Despite Government assurances that the reforms are simply designed to speed up a lengthy and laborious process which holds back the economy rather than removing environmental safeguards, pressure for significant revisions has intensified with the Commons environmental audit committee describing the wording of the framework as “contradictory and confusing”.

The draft framework includes a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, but MPs say that without a clear definition this “presents different messages to different audiences” about what it means in practice.

Committee chairman Joan Walley said: “As it currently stands the new planning policy framework appears contradictory and confusing. It pays lip service to sustainable development without providing a clear definition, potentially leaving future planning decisions open to legal challenges.”

The committee also says the requirement for 60 per cent of development to be on brownfield sites has been replaced with an “ambiguous” requirement for development to be on sites with least environmental value, and warns that the new document could weaken protection of the green belt, weaken a policy to support town centres rather than out-of-town centres and could lead to urban sprawl.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We are determined to deliver a simpler planning system which makes absolutely clear the Government’s intention to provide the homes and jobs that the next generation needs while protecting our priceless countryside.

“The planning system has always enshrined the principle that the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development should be considered in a balanced way – and it will continue to do so.

“The Framework also aims to strengthen local decision-making and reinforce the importance of local plans. It was always our intention to ensure that appropriate transitional arrangements are in place before the new Framework comes into force.”

Comment: Page 14.