Autumn is nearly here, so it must be time for another good row about planning, mustn’t it? Given the number of recent reports that ministers are considering relaxing green belt protection, it was only a matter of time before the Campaign to Protect Rural England lifted its head above the parapet. Today it warned the government it is at risk of ‘destroying the countryside’ if plans to develop 81,000 new homes over the next five years.
Last autumn’s row over the National Planning Policy Framework was ugly, not least because it engaged Conservative ministers in battle with the CPRE and the National Trust: two organisations with a traditionally Conservative membership. Some of those ministers did not respond particularly well to this: Bob Neill’s interesting decision to dub staff at National Trust ‘Left-wingers’ being the most notable example. At the time, I remember another Tory minister telling me over lunch that he was deeply embarrassed by the ‘lefty’ comments: ‘It seems bit of an own goal to alienate people who are our natural grassroots by calling them names they won’t appreciate like ‘lefty’,’ he remarked between mouthfuls.
The stakes are higher this time round. In 2011, the row over the NPPF was prompted by a desire to overhaul the planning system. Now the row over possible tweaks to that document is prompted by a panic about growth, and how to get the economy moving quickly. The ministers pushing this agenda aren’t Neill and his colleagues in the Communities and Local Government: they’re in the Treasury, which has the support of the Prime Minister. They seem to be up for a bit of a scrap: but perhaps this time round they will choose their words a little more wisely when hitting back at conservation groups.Tags: Planning, UK politics