Lib Dems threaten rebellion over rural planning reforms

Article from the Independent

David Cameron risks opening a crack in the coalition this week when new planning rules are published which opponents fear will give developers the freedom to build all over the countryside.

Officials at the Department of Communities and Local Government have been rewriting the proposed National Planning Policy Framework after the first draft set off a furious reaction from Liberal Democrat MPs with rural seats.

The new guidance, which will be much shorter than the old, is expected to be published tomorrow, and will ease planning restrictions so that developers can contribute to reviving the economy and solving the housing shortage. But opponents fear they could be allowed to ruin the rural environment.

Martin Horwood, Lib Dem MP for Cheltenham, said: “I’m quite concerned about the revised draft. The central problem is the obsession with sacrificing everything on the altar of economic development. Germany has the strongest economic performance in Europe and one of the strictest planning frameworks.”

Annette Brooke, Lib Dem MP for Mid Dorset, said: “It’s incredibly important to get the right balance between the social, economic and environmental effects. The first draft didn’t strike the right balance. If I see the right words around that this time, I’ll breath a sigh of relief.”

It was reported yesterday the plans will include a new community of 100,000 homes on green belt land around Coventry and Wolverhampton, near the route of the HS2 railway. The Sunday Telegraph also reported London was to have a new “second Docklands” on the west side of the capital.

The proposed changes have been opposed by environmental groups, including the Council to Protect Rural England, as being too accommodating to developers. The CPRE described the new planning framework as the most important of its kind for 30 years.

But a spokesman added: “Some parts of the Government, particularly the Treasury and Department for Business, wanted to change the role of planning to make it a tool for facilitating economic growth above all else.”

Changes to create 500,000 jobs

Half a million jobs could be created by planning reforms allied with state support of the mortgage market, according to house builders anxiously awaiting news of the Government’s plans to liberalise regulation of housing development.

The Home Builders Federation says that the Government’s NewBuy mortgage indemnity scheme could be a “game-changer” if the Coalition follows through on its pledge to make the planning process favour new development – securing a boom in jobs as well as providing urgently needed new homes. Fewer than 100,000 began to be built in Britain last year, despite official figures indicating an annual rate of 250,000 is needed in England alone to keep up with demand and deliver the 2 million more houses and flats needed by 2020.

The Government has predicted that the reforms would create 50,000 new jobs, but Steve Turner of the Home Builders Federation said that was a “huge underestimation”. “If we get up to the number of homes required by this country… then you’re creating in order of [500,000] jobs,” he said.

Rob Hastings

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