The Deputy Prime Minister has been accused of failing to live up to promises he made to campaigners in his own constituency before the General Election when he told them “fixing the economy must never come at the expense of protecting the environment”.
Environmentalists and many MPs fear the Government’s drive to speed up the planning system will leave the countryside vulnerable to new building.
In an open letter to Mr Clegg, Carol Robinson, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England South Yorkshire, said: “We are incredibly surprised that you stand behind this attempt to subvert the planning system just because you believe removing tried and tested planning safeguards will kick start the economy.
“What really astounds us is the fact that you appear to have abandoned your previously firmly-held green principles – which you stated were core to the LibDems’ way of thinking.”
But last night a spokesman for Mr Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam, insisted that the Government was determined to protect “priceless countryside” and that protection for the Green Belt will not be changed.
The personal challenge to Mr Clegg comes amid signs that Ministers are preparing to make concessions after being taken aback by the scale of the revolt.
Ministers, who proposed ripping up 1,300 pages of planning rules and replacing them with 52, claim it is vital to kick-start economic growth but campaigners fear the draft National Planning Policy Framework would allow the countryside to be carved up.
An influential Commons committee adds to the pressure today by warning the introduction of a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” is “contradictory and confusing” and vulnerable to legal challenges, calling for a clear definition to be set. There is also pressure for Ministers, currently considering the outcome of a consultation on the framework, to reinstate a clear demand that development should take place on previously developed sites first.
In her letter, Ms Robinson said: “We believe that the draft NPPF fails to value the countryside for its own sake, prioritises economic development over sustainable development and will wreak havoc on greenfield land.”
• More in Saturday’s Yorkshire Post