Planning relaxation laws 'could destroy village greens'
A Government attempt to loosen planning rules in order to encourage economic growth will seriously damage the key protections for cherished areas of countryside, conservationists claim.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says the Growth and Infrastructure Bill is a "below the radar attack" on level-headed planning.
Campaigners for open spaces say the "nasty" plans run counter to the Coalition's stated intention to devolve power to communities and will lead to the destruction of much-loved village greens.
Supporters argue the Bill, which is due to receive its second reading in Parliament soon, aims to close loopholes used by protesters who launch "spurious" applications as a delaying tactic to thwart necessary development.
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John Hoad, the CPRE's head of planning, said "disingenuous" rhetoric about red tape holding up economic growth was "a diversion from the real issue – lack of funding for development".
"The Bill is a poor recipe for delivering either growth or infrastructure," he added.
"With environment given such a low priority, we will see schemes for business, housing and roads on green fields rushed through by cowed councils, and a rash of broadband clutter in our best landscapes and villages."
The Government has already reduced planning policy from 1,000 pages to around 50 by introducing, then amending after a public outcry, its National Planning Policy Framework.
Separately, a fresh attempt, led by former North Cornwall Liberal Democrat MP and now Lord Matthew Taylor, has also been unveiled to cut planning guidance from 6,000 pages to as few as 1,200 pages.
The review, will be carried out in just six weeks, and is not open to public consultation.
Opponents fear that protections face a double assault – with local authorities no longer forced to ask the permission of ministers before building on the green belt.
Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and president of the Ramblers, said the existing right to register a village green would be removed once an area of land was identified for development, if the Bill were to become law.
She said campaigns, such as the one to register Sugary Green, near Castle Cove, in Dartmouth, as a village green under the Commons Act of 2006, thereby banning development will be impossible.
"It is ridiculous and is going to kill off all the genuine applications as well as the vexatious ones," she added.
The Country Land and Business Association, who lobbied for the changes, said tactical moves to block schemes under "spurious" applications "needed sorting out".
"We don't think the green belt will be lost forever," a spokesman said.
"It is part of the solution and will free up enterprise and economic activity – without this towns become a series of dormitories."
The Bill is on a fast track to become law by early 2013.