“Building free-for-all [in new planning regulations] puts rural West at risk”

Western Morning News article, Saturday 21 April:

“Pristine protected areas of the South West could be at risk from housing developments plans, a conservation charity has warned. Even officially designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty would face developments due to “vague” proposed new planning guidance for local authorities the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says.

The Government argues that the new rules, part of a move to open up land to solve the housing shortage, would still protect the environment.
However Justin Hague of the South Hams CPRE, said “this would be game over” for conservationists.

Some of the south West’s pristine and most beautiful landscapes could have houses built on them under Government plans conservationists have warned.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England says even officially designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty would face major development due to the “vague” new planning guidance for local authorities.

The proposals- which are being consulted on until May 10 – would end the fight to preserve the precious areas, said the chairman of the group in one of the most under-pressure parts of the regain.

“Not to sound too dramatic, but for countryside campaigners it would be game over” said Justin Hague, chairman of the South Hams branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. (CPRE)

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) would be handed “on a plate to the developers”

He is urging people to write to their MPs to build opposition to the proposed changes.

The controversy is over sections of the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) which sets out the Government`s Policies on proposed developments and how they are expected to be applied.

Changes are being but forward partly to help solve the housing crisis.
The aim is to “bring forward more land in the right places” for development, the Government says “Protecting and enhancing the natural environment “ is one of the three key objectives , the document states.

However conservationists are concerned by what they say is watering down of the NPPF policies protecting special areas of the countryside and coast which were put in place in 2012.

Their attention focuses on one section of the proposals, Conserving and Enhancing the Natural Environment.

In the existing document, reference is made to protected areas such as National Parks and AONBs as having the “highest status of protection in relation to landscape and scenic beauty.

The wording disappears under the new proposals.

Mr Hague said absolute tests that helped reinforce protection of the special areas would also go if new guidelines were agreed.

“The proposals say major developments will only be allowed in exceptional circumstances. But what is “major”? Is that 100 homes? In the South Hams in the AONB 10homes could have a huge impact.

“It massively opens the door for development in AONBs” he said.

“My concern is these proposed changes are buried in a huge document that few people have the time or interest to read.

Mr Hague said he had an “unprecedented” response since he expressed his concerns in newsletter to fellow CPRE members in the South Hams.

“Usually I get three or four responses” he said “This time I had 70!”
Mr Hague said the South Hams faced particular pressure for development because of the desire for second homes.

Developers were struggling to sell homes in less-desirable areas, even with the assistance of the Governments Help to Buy Scheme “

They would be able to sell those houses like hot cakes to second home owners if they were able to build in beautiful areas and on the coast” he said.”

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