National Trust chief and minister clash in debate over green assets and planning policy

Government minister forced to defend National Planning Policy Framework following renewed worries over green assets.

National Trust chief Greg Clark supports a move to local decisions - image: NT
National Trust chief Greg Clark supports a move to local decisions - image: NT

One of Britain's most influential voices on green spaces restoked confrontation over planning reforms last week in a face-to-face debate with the localism minister.

National Trust director-general Dame Fiona Reynolds said she was horrified when she read National Planning Policy Framework proposals to abolish regional strategies in favour of local and neighbourhood policies.

The document, she said, gave too much emphasis to economic drivers instead of social and environmental.

Reynolds squared up to planning and localism minister Greg Clark at a conference in London last week.

"The weight is on financial considerations," she said. "The definition of sustainable development, for example, is not clear enough and favours economic factors.

"We must support the planning profession to deliver a balanced framework so we can demonstrate best practice, smart growth and a strong sense of commitment to protect assets that are beyond price."

But Clark described current planning laws as verbose, imposed from above and so complex as to silt up the system. Regional strategies, he added, imposed targets and rules that impinged on every community in the country.

"We need to put more faith in local people. Some communities have parish plans but with no teeth. The accretion of national and regional policies puts an excessive block of standards in the way of communities," he said.

British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director of policy Adam Marshall claimed that the reforms were crucial for business confidence. He denied that they would lead to a "nightmare vision of urban sprawl, a developer free-for-all or a massive reclassification of land".

A survey of 5,300 BCC members found that almost three-quarters received conflicting advice from authority to authority, while a tenth did not apply because of cost and complexity. Nearly three-quarters felt that decisions were based on political grounds, not merit.

British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace said: "The framework is broadly on the right track in dealing with a system our members find sclerotic and slow and delivered by forklift truck instead of an envelope."

Planning reform - Green space pledge

Prime minister David Cameron tried to reassure National Trust director-general Dame Fiona Reynolds on planning reforms in a letter last week.

"The current system is highly complex with more than 3,000 pages of new guidance, which is clunky to operate. Our reforms will maintain protections for the green belt, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

"It will introduce a local green space designation that communities can use to protect open places they value. The framework insists on high environmental standards and good design."


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