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Alice Barnard: How to prevent the planning debate from dividing into two rival camps

Alice Barnard, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, is on the Conservative candidates list.

Screen shot 2011-09-08 at 19.11.17 The debate over the Government’s draft National Planning Framework has steadily intensified in recent weeks. In the media-storm that has accompanied the struggle, few have been able to escape being dragged into the war of words between the two rival camps.

It is a shame that for such an important policy the debate has become so polarised. Those who support a simplification in planning rules have been accused of placing economic growth above the protection of our natural environment; while those who want to ensure our green spaces are safeguarded from eager developers have been disparaged as trying to preserve an anachronistic view of rural England.

In truth, the draft legislation opens the door to neither of these unwanted outcomes. The Countryside Alliance welcomes many of the provisions in the NPPF and sees a lot of what it proposes as a crucial part of providing the much-needed growth in the rural economy.

The Alliance recently published a report looking into the critical shortfall in affordable rural housing and the hugely detrimental effect it is having on schools, businesses and communities in general in the countryside. A simplification of the planning process could go some way to empowering local people to meet their housing needs.

But - and there is a large "but" - this is not to say that the draft framework is flawless. Organisations like the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England are right to raise concerns over some parts of the guidance, in particular the ambiguity around who has the final say on any proposed development.

The Countryside Alliance believes that planning decisions should be made at a local level, making full use of local experience and local knowledge. It is the rural communities themselves that best know what is required and what can be successful in their area. Putting the emphasis on local consent would also force developers to adapt any proposals to ensure they fit with the demands of the communities in which they wish to build.

We believe that this middle-ground, with its emphasis on localism, will - alongside the Government’s planning simplification - benefit those areas that wish to increase their housing provision or rural businesses looking to expand, without compromising the safety of our precious natural environment. Whether there is room for a nuanced position in this debate, only time will tell.


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