• Countryside at war as planning system collapses

    7th March 2013 | News | Claire
  • Simon Jenkins, the Chairman of the National Trust, said every day another community is coming forward to complain of a new wind farm or housing development in a beautiful area.

    He said the last year is the worst he has ever known for threats to the countryside, with a number of key heritage sites in danger from not only wind farms but fracking, high speed rail and even nuclear disposal.

    “Local Britain will be a warfare area,” he warned.

    “Everywhere you go people are fighting random developments. This can only be tackled by proper planning.”

    Under the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), introduced by the Government last year, every council must have a local plan in place by the end of this month to guide development.

    But The Daily Telegraph revealed yesterday that less than half of the country’s councils have a “local plan” in place.

    This means that planning reverts to the Government’s so called “presumption in favour of sustainable development” under the NPPF, described as a “builder’s charter”.

    Sir Simon said failure to have a plan in place will not mean more houses are built but “more conflict” as local communities use the law courts to fight the vague new legislation.

    “It will just mean that everyone will be fighting, fighting, fighting and that is not the best way of running rural Britain,” he added.

    Sir Simon said that masts and cables to connect broadband and pylons are also a threat to the countryside because of another piece of ill-thought through planning legislation: the Growth and Infrastructure Bill.

    He said wind farms are the most immediate threat, despite failing to offer a reliable source of energy.

    “There is a major battle taking place almost everywhere on wind turbines. Wind farms are very intrusive forms of renewable energy.”

    Dame Helen Ghosh, the new Director General of the National Trust, agreed that wind turbines should not be built near historic buildings or sensitive landscapes.

    The High Court is set to rule in the next few days whether the need to build wind turbines to generate electricity can override the need to protect heritage sites.

    “The National Trust believes wind farms are appropriate in the right places and if the science backs the location and the technology,” she said. “We believe that proposals for wind farms on land near historic buildings or sensitive landscapes is not the right place – for new technology of whatever kind. What we need to do is to preserve the spirit of those landscapes as people want to see them.”

    Dame Helen said councils need another year to draw up local plans and ensure development like wind turbines do not happen in the wrong place.

    “Councils need more time to get their local plans in place to protect land from unwanted development and ensure communities get the developments they need, in the right places,” she said.
    Neil Sinden, Director of Policy and Campaigns for CPRE, agreed councils need another year to draw up local plans.

    “It is not too late for the Government to take action to ensure their planning reforms do not result in a rash of damaging development and irreversible loss of countryside.

    “So today we are asking Planning Minister Nick Boles to extend the transitional period by at least another 12 months and ideally 18 months”

    The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said figures on “adopted” local plans only paint a partial picture.

    A spokesman pointed out that seven out of ten councils have “published” local plans, which can be used in the context of planning decisions before they are officially “adopted”.

    “Up to date Local Plans provide certainty to both local residents and local firms, and we have offered councils a range of practical assistance to help them get up to speed,” he said.
    He said “environmental designations” like green belt still count when there is no local plan.

    “Over and above local plans there remain strong protections in place for the Green Belt, open countryside and areas of outstanding natural beauty in the planning framework as a whole for applications to be judged against.”

    Dame Helen also hit out at the Government for failing to stop overfishing and inappropriate developments at sea.

    She pointed out that only 31 Marine Conservation Cones will be created by the end of this year – despite the face the Government’s own studies show 127 are under threat.
    She demanded a guarantee that all 127 areas are protected.

    “On the precautionary principle we believe Government has a duty to require its agencies to use existing legal mechanisms to protect the conservation of all 127 of these marine places until formal designation as Marine Conservation Zones can be achieved.”

    Fracking is also a threat to National Trust sights in Northern Ireland and north west England.

    Peter Nixon, director of Conservation at the National Trust, said fracking is “Fool’s Gold”.

    “If it takes our eye off the ball from the need for energy efficiency and a long term sustainable source of renewable energy, it will be fool’s gold,” he said.

    Mr Nixon said invasive pests and diseases from abroad are a major concern for the National Trust at the moment.

    He said ash dieback alone is expected to cost £15m over the next ten years. Other threats include muntjac deer and rhododendrons.

    Visitor numbers to National Trust properties went down slightly last year to just under 19 million, although membership held up at around four million and income is up.

    Sir Simon blamed the Olympics for the downturn in visitors.

    “It was a disaster.”