Building development risk to West's countryside
Government planning reforms are leaving communities in the West “increasingly powerless” to stop damaging development in the countryside and even the Green Belt, campaigners said.
The first year of the reforms have seen major housing schemes on greenfield sites given the go-ahead despite local opposition, while fewer affordable houses are set to be built, a report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said.
The new national planning policy framework (NPPF) was described by the Government as returning power to local communities for sustainable development in their area. But analysis shows 20 major housing schemes in open countryside have been given the green light despite being previously refused by the local authority, or not being in line with local plans setting out development for the area, the CPRE said.
A requirement that councils outline five years of “deliverable” land for new housing is being used to justify development on greenfield sites instead of brownfield sites, because they are more economically viable for developers.
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The reforms also mean an estimated 10,000 affordable homes which local communities need will not be built.
In order to meet the targets for five years of new housing being imposed on them, some councils are being forced to allocate more greenfield areas than originally intended and even Green Belt land for development, the CPRE claimed.
And less than half of councils – including several in the West – currently have a local plan in place setting out where development can take place in their area, leaving them under pressure to approve building schemes in line with national policies rather than local views.
As a result valuable areas of the countryside are being lost, with examples including almost 300 homes given approval on greenfield sites on the edge of Tetbury in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and on prime farmland. The rural buffer zone between Bristol and Bath near Newton St Loe is also under threat.
The report also said that despite Government assurances that protected areas of landscape and the Green Belt would be safe from building, urban development was “implicitly” being encouraged in the Green Belt.
The CPRE pointed to an interview with Chancellor George Osborne last year, where he called for more “swapping” of Green Belt land, to permit building on the Green Belt, with other land taken into the Green Belt in compensation.
But the campaigners’ report raised concerns that such an approach undermined the permanence of the Green Belt and its role in encouraging urban regeneration.
CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said: “Despite the rhetoric of localism, it now seems that local communities are increasingly powerless to prevent damaging development even in the most sensitive locations.”
The report from the CPRE comes after National Trust chairman Sir Simon Jenkins warned the planning reforms would lead to “warfare” in local communities over unwanted developments such as housing and wind farms.
A Communities Department spokesman said: “The framework is clear that very strong protections are in place to safeguard the Green Belt and protect other areas, such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and that local plans are at the heart of the planning system.
“We mustn’t forget councils have had many years to establish their plans.”