Planning reforms 'are damaging the country'
Government planning reforms are leaving communities "increasingly powerless" to stop damaging development in the countryside, campaigners said.
The first year of the reforms have seen major housing schemes on greenfield sites given the go-ahead despite local opposition, while fewer affordable houses are set to be built, a report by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said.
The new national planning policy framework (NPPF) was described by the Government as returning power to local communities for sustainable development in their area.
But analysis shows 20 major housing schemes in open countryside have been given the green light despite being previously refused by the local authority, or not being in line with local plans setting out development for the area, the CPRE said.
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Fewer than half of councils – including those in Cornwall, Torbay, East Devon, North Devon, Torridge and Teignbridge – currently have a local plan in place setting out where development can take place in their area, leaving them under pressure to approve schemes in line with national policies rather than local views.
CPRE chief executive Shaun Spiers said: "Despite the rhetoric of localism, it now seems that local communities are increasingly powerless to prevent damaging development even in the most sensitive locations.
"The country badly needs more housing, including affordable housing in rural areas.
"But we will not get housing on the scale we need without popular consent, and there will be no popular consent unless local communities believe that they are being listened to and that the planning system is minimising the loss of much-loved green fields."
A Communities Department spokesman said "very strong protections" were in place to safeguard the Green Belt and protect other areas, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty.
"New rights ensure communities have a bigger say on development then ever before through neighbourhood and local plans, and councils should focus on getting up-to-date locally-decided plans in place," he added.
"Seven out of 10 councils now have published plans compared to three out of 10 previously, and good progress is being made across the remainder."
The CPRE said the reforms also meant that an estimated 10,000 affordable homes needed in local communities would not be built.
That debate was fuelled last week when Sir Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, said children raised in the countryside had no automatic right to live near their parents when they grow up.
But Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, told the Western Morning News that "could hasten the end of many rural communities".
He warned: "A lack of affordable homes creates a vicious cycle which if not broken leads to the break-up of communities, a loss of services and results in villages that have no long term future."