RURAL campaigners have spurned talks with the Government until Ministers give guarantees that changes to the planning laws will not harm some of the North East’s most cherished sites.
The National Trust has been leading opposition to Government moves to free up the planning process, which Ministers say will aid the recovery.
Protesters yesterday said they had been offered talks on the plans but refused to meet Ministers until they could give guarantees that landscapes including Hadrian’s Wall and the Northumberland coast would not be harmed under the Government plans.
The Trust stance came after a number of local authorities – including Northumberland County Council – confirmed they were already using the Government plans when considering potential new developments.
The issue is becoming a potential flashpoint for the Government as opposition to relaxing the planning laws has grown in Tory-voting rural heartlands.
Last night, Fiona Reynolds, director general for the National Trust, told The Journal: “Earlier today, the National Trust met today with minister Greg Clark, who invited us to engage now in dialogue about the detail of the National Planning Policy Framework document.
“As a major landowner in the North East that cares for iconic places including Cragside and Wallington in Northumberland as well as large stretches of the Northumberland Coast and Hadrian’s Wall, we welcome this invitation.
“However, we’re not prepared to enter into such talks until we have a clear statement, from the highest levels of Government, clarifying that the planning system is not there principally to promote economic development.”
Regional branches of English Heritage, the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England have all warned there will be no way to stand up to housing developers as a result of Government’s plans to reduce the national planning framework from 1,000 pages to just 52.
Councils and planning inspectors have already been told they must work on the assumption that the draft proposals, which will in effect automatically grant permission unless a reason can be found not to, will be passed into law.
This means that from this month onwards Northumberland National Park Authority and the county council will have to consider giving new buildings the go-ahead unless there are issues such as a threat to green belt land.
Chancellor George Osborne defended the proposals this week, insisting they were economically vital and there would be “sensible protections” for the countryside.
A spokeswoman for English Heritage said there were concerns that as it stood the rules offered no protection to assets such as Hadrian’s Wall if the developer can show there is only moderate or minor harm to such sites.
“We are also concerned that the strong bias towards giving permission may unintentionally and unnecessarily tip the scales against heritage protection generally,” the spokeswoman added.
English Heritage was backed by the North East branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Regional chair Phil Bell said: “We are not against the building of houses, we know there aren’t enough affordable houses in the area. However, we think there are plenty of brownfield sites within Tyne and Wear which could be built on. Building on greenfield sites would be a mistake.”
John Riddle, chair of Northumberland National Park Authority, said campaigners should await the final legislation proposals. He added: “I would like to see the details of this as they emerge. There are some planning changes we would welcome, but I would not like to see a change which opens the floodgates for development.”