In a major new report published today (Monday), the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has gathered evidence from across England which reveals unprecedented pressure on our most treasured countryside following the Coalition’s planning reforms.
The current planning framework has encouraged housing, energy, transport and tourism development in hitherto ‘protected’ areas. This is despite assurances from the Prime Minister and Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles MP, that National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) would be safeguarded under their reforms.
The Government’s agenda for growth is fuelling the number of applications being made for major development in National Parks, AONBs and locally valued landscapes.
As a result CPRE is today calling for a Parliamentary inquiry to review the impact of development threats and recommend policy changes.
The report highlights over 20 developments threatening the landscape, including:
- a development of over 500 houses almost entirely within the Kent Downs AONB – home of the famous White Cliffs of Dover - which has recently been approved;
- a major new road scheme between Sheffield and Manchester which threatens the Peak District National Park, and a 20km dual carriageway in the Norfolk countryside;
- a massive solar development on a locally designated site in Dorset, which would be the largest solar installation in the South West, and one of the largest in the country;
- the placement of 250 static homes on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, close to a village with a population of just 1600; and
- a winter wonderland theme park in Berkshire’s Swinley Forest.
Shaun Spiers, CPRE Chief Executive said:
‘On paper designated landscapes have the highest level of protection in planning policy. But as our report today shows, there is growing pressure to approve disastrous development. It is just far too easy for developers to get their way at fatal cost to our precious landscapes.
‘Our report provides further clear evidence that the current planning framework is not nearly as robust as it needs to be. We need to strengthen planning policies before it’s too late. The nation deserves better protection for its irreplaceable countryside.’
Far from being a block to development, businesses in National Parks generated £10.4bn turnover in 2012 . They are deeply valued nationally and by local communities and receive an estimated 95 million visitors each year who are attracted by their natural beauty.
CPRE is urgently calling on the Government to:
- strengthen national planning policy by giving greater weight to the protection of nationally designated and locally valued landscapes;
- recognise the contribution that National Parks and AONBs make to our economy and review cuts to their funding in advance of the imminent Spending Review; and
- produce effective guidance for the Planning Inspectorate on implementing the major development test in National Parks and AONBs.
CPRE is also pressing for a Parliamentary inquiry into the pressures facing our most precious countryside.
Shaun Spiers concluded: ‘There is a real need for more housing and other development, and no-one wants to embalm the countryside. But development should be carefully planned and guided into the most suitable locations. If they are to remain national treasures, our most beautiful landscapes require stronger planning protection. We will only devalue our land if we pursue growth ‘at any cost’.