The Goverment Planning Reforms and the National Trust

Over the last few weeks there has been a national campaign by the National Trust to gather awareness about, and a petition against, the Government’s currently planned changes in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (or NPPF).  

On Saturday last, MarkHarold, National Trust Director for the South-West, outlined in the Western Morning News what this all means exactly, and why it matters – why everyone should be concerned and should get involved. 

Here’s the transcript

“Intimes of economic uncertainty and instability, there’s not much itseems that we can take for granted, including job security, the valueof our pensions, the price of food and the cost of an education.Still, one thing that I would hope we could all take for granted isthe ability to wander out each day onto our favorite patch of greenspace– be it a local common, heath or woodland – and just enjoythe refreshment that it brings; be it walking the dog, watching thekids play or just seeing wildlife and the seasons pass. However, ifthe government makes its currently proposed changes to the nationalplanning system, it will mean that these precious, local green spacesget added to the growing list of things that many of us can no longertake for granted. This is why the National Trust is standing up anddemanding that it amends its proposal so that these local greenspaces remain safe from inappropriate development.

Tospell out the challenge: the government’s currently planned changesset out in the draft National Planning Policy Framework (or NPPF)claim to deliver simplicity, sustainable development and localdemocracy- which may all sound fine, but the devil is in the detail.Sustainable development requires the careful balancing of economic,social and environmental considerations and it is precisely what theexisting approach to planning strives to achieve. In the new draftNPPF, however, the language gives far more weight to commercialconsiderations than the needs of the local community or environment.As such, we welcome David Cameron’s recent assurance that thisimbalance will be redressed.

Asthe draft NPPF currently stands – unredressed – property developerswill only need to show how their plans deliver economic growth, forany other consideration to be put aside. Further, if a localauthority’s own planning strategy is ‘silent, indeterminate orout-of-date’ – which applies to almost half the country – thenthat authority stands little chance of sustaining any objections tocommercial development and a high likelihood of losing on appeal. TheLocalism Bill – now in the House of Lords – also currentlyincludes an override that would make it impossible for localcommunities to choose or block developments that contradict the coreprinciples of the Bill, including national policy, such as the NPPF,and a default ‘yes’ to development.

Ineffect, the National Trust believes that – without redress – thegovernment’s originally planned changes to the planning regimewould do the exact opposite of delivering sustainable development andlocal democracy. As currently drafted, the changes would deliver thevested interests of property developers at the expense of localcommunities, the natural and historic environment and our locallandscapes. Although the NPPF is ‘draft’, planning advisors havealready been told to abide by it. Campaigning against this situationis about campaigning for the right to safeguard our ordinary greenspaces – the local places that we would like to take for granted -and that is why the National Trust is asking people to show theirsupport and keep up pressure on the government by signing our onlinepetition.

Someof our opponents have said that we oppose the government’s plansbecause the National Trust somehow wants to preserve the countrysidein aspic and resist all growth, which simply isn’t true. Of course,the National Trust is well known for its conservation of formalgardens and properties, but it is also involved in making its landavailable to local communities – by creating new allotments to meetrapidly growing demand, by developing community supportedagricultural schemes, and by undertaking initiatives to improveaccess to our land – and we want to do much more of this. Throughout the Trust, on our many farms – from the Lizard to our6400 acre estate at Killerton, north of Exeter – we work so closelywith the land that we know it is simply impossible to preserve it inaspic. We also havethe challenge of wanting to improve access to some of our land byundertaking careful development – such as our proposed cycle tracksand café at Plymbridge Woods, which is currently attracting muchdebate, both for and against. We want a strong planning process wheredevelopments such as Plymbridge can be decided on the balance ofpublic interest.

Ihave worked at the National Trust for most of my working life and Iam as passionate about protecting the green spaces around our townsand villages for the use and enjoyment of people of the South-West,as I am about safeguarding our spectacular coast, Areas ofOutstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites. If you careabout your local green spaces, then please help us to keep uppressure on the government by signing our petition, available on ourwebsite;

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