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National Planning Protest Grows

Planning Protest GrowsIn Change of Plan? we announced our take on the Government's - or more particularly, George Osborne's  - change of heart over planning policy,

We looked at their new 'Draft Planning Policy Framework for Growth' and we said it looked set to upset folk up and down the land because it advanced a 'growth agenda' that will see many more of Britain's green fields lost to development.

The underlying logic claims to be financial, and it's simple - but it's wrong.

The argument runs that if we allow developers to build houses shops and factories, that will get a lot of people back into employment. (even if it's only to build them)

That, in turn, will reduce the amount paid out in welfare payments at present, but more than that, it will make people feel able to spend again, because people will feel better off.

And if people start spending again, they will also start to borrow again (instead of saving or reducing indebtedness as they are now).

And if they start borrowing again, growth will multiply, and become a self-feeding virtuous circle that can get us out of the current situation.

So why don't we agree? What's wrong with that idea?

Well, you can't deny the savings on welfare costs, they are real. But the rest of it is pie in the sky, and downright dangerous.

It seeks to promote exactly the problems that got this country (and so many other countries) in this problem in the first place. It creates the *illusion* of growth and the *illusion* of wealth, but it's all based on borrowed money.

It's completely financially unsustainable in the longer term.

The Government now wants to create another credit bubble to hide us from the essential and permanent truth - that to have a sustainable future, there is no easy-rider lifestyle with magic money flowing free. There are no free lunches. As a country, we have to earn it in hard cash, or exploit our (limited) natural assets.

Shuffling debt around - whether it's household or sovereign - simply delays the inevitable, as Greece and other countries are just starting to find out.  There is only what you earn from providing services or making things, and the assets or resources that you sell.

Which brings us neatly back to what George Osborne wants. In effect,  he's after the sale of our green land resource to help re-create the credit bubble. He wants *GROWTH* - almost at any cost.

Although they don't have the same financial take on the problem as we do, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), were probably the first organisation to publicly highlight the policy change being made by Government.

The Rt. Hon St Eric Pickles' localism proposals for planning are being quietly sidelined in favour of pushing the growth bubble up the hill again.

In our last article on this we said (and we meant) that CPRE were "widely, and well respected" and we said their comments were  "normally measured, (or even reserved)".

They said "CPRE believes that the Government is risking an environmental disaster – and many battles with local communities – by putting the economic aims of the planning system ahead of its social and environmental purposes. This is despite the fact that the same Government has recently published a White Paper on the natural environment that sets out a vision for protecting and restoring the countryside on a large scale. Ministers need to decide where their priorities lie."

Their Chief Executive, Shaun Spiers concluded: "The 'growth at any cost' stance promoted by some within the Government places our countryside in enormous danger. It risks undermining Ministers' own stated ambition in the Natural Environment White Paper to protect our natural assets much better"

We believe they are absolutely right. But Planning Minister Greg Clark  said it was not possible to make a change to "any element of national planning policy without the CPRE objecting to it".

Ooooh! that one stung him didn't it

CPRE hit back with: "The government needs to listen and make further improvements or the consequences for the English countryside and the character of our towns and villages will be grave."

The cat was out of the bag. People were starting to wake up to the disaster that could unfold as the new planning policies are put into action - if indeed they ever are.

What we're writing here is a theme that's being picked up across the country as those with a bit of understanding of how planning works are spreading the word about how bad it could all become if Government doesn't change it's mind on this one.

The one hope that exists is that when it comes to public opinion, David Cameron is a true pragmatist. He's sufficiently detached to be able to drop things that are badly thought out and really unpopular (eg selling off our forests, NHS reforms), and we can only hope he feels the weight of public opinion on this one too.

But now, another organisation has entered the fray in this matter.

Under the headline Government Reforms Threaten Green Spaces, The mighty National Trust has embarked on a fierce criticism of the plans.

To read more, you can follow this link to their website.

But basically, The National Trust are saying that "for decades our planning system has protected much loved places from harmful development. The Government's reforms turn this on its head, using it as a tool primarily to promote economic growth instead."

They also say "The Government’s reforms fail this test- they need to stop and think again."

That's not the sort of language you hear from august bodies such as the NT and CPRE.

NT's Chairman (Simon Jenkins) wrote an article for the Guardian. It begins "With parliament in recess the government this week sneaked out the most astonishing change to the face of England in half a century. A "national planning policy framework" replaces all previous regulation and encourages building wherever the market takes it, crucially in the two-thirds of rural England outside national parks, green belts and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Farms, forests, hills, valleys, estuaries and coasts will be at the mercy of a "presumption in favour of sustainable development". The "default response" to any planning application is to be "yes"."

Not surprisingly, the Government's Greg Clark was really mad about this. He told the BBC he accused the National Trust of "misleading" people.

In an interview with the Financial Times he said "The National Trust had on their website an aerial shot of Los Angeles in some risible idea that this was the future of Britain, If you can square a village voting for 10 new homes for its parishioners with the sprawl of Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, I fail to see it."

He added: "Last year was the lowest level of housebuilding since World War II, which means the problem is getting worse and worse, causing more misery for more people for as long as this isn't addressed. "People do have an interest in the future - to not care shows a degree of nihilistic selfishness which is quite rare."

We think this one is set to run for a while longer yet.

We predict more and more organisations taking up cudgels against the proposals to put the presumption of growth at the forefront of every planning application.

Over the last 60 years or so, we have only seen one instance where former built development was returned to agricultural countryside (The redundant wartime airport at Burtonwood on the M62 near Widnes).

But what we have seen - a lot - are places throughout the fylde area that were once fields which are now housing estates. We've seen Thornton creep ever closer to Fleetwood, and Carlton to Poulton and Poulton to Blackpool, and so on, until places become simply districts of one indistinguishable urban sprawl.

It simply can't go on like this.

That's why there is so much protest over large scale developments in the countryside - look at Queensway Environmental Defenders, Defend Lytham, Wesham Action Group, Save Wrea Green Action Group, Concerned Residents of Warton's Development and the Ballam Road Group. Whilst these groups might have one or two individuals motivated by the impact on where they live, mostly the folk working together in these groups are fighting to protect and preserve something that is both bigger and more important than their own interest.

It's really about our way of life in this country: our culture.

And those beliefs, attitudes and values that comprise our culture are shared by many throughout the land. So Mr Clark can expect more of the same.

The point of the localism bill was to give 'power to the people'

In his speech introducing the Localism Bill to the House of Commons, our hero the Rt Hon Saint Eric Pickles said "The Bill pushes power out as far as possible into communities and neighbourhoods, into the hands of individuals and community groups. For too long, local groups, community associations and even ordinary men and women on the street with a good idea and a desire to make their neighbourhood a better place to live, have been ignored and left out. They have no rights and no chance to have their voice heard. It is hardly surprising that even the most dedicated activist gets frustrated, let alone a concerned mum who just wants to see her street kept clean or a group of friends who are worried about a local pub that is under threat. We are giving people new rights, powers and opportunities to act on the issues that matter."

Our message to him is simple. Tell George Osborne to "shove it"  before he has his own 'Caroline Spelman' forest sell-off moment

Our readers can help the National Trust make their point to Government. They have an online petition. You can follow this link and sign up your opposition to the plans that would put growth before the needs of people.

We hope lots of our readers will do so.

Dated:   28 August 2011


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