Civic Voice letter in The Times (Wednesday 14th March)

The following letter appeared in The Times on Wednesday 14th March.

The Government's proposals to reform the planning system will shortly be finalised. The Cabinet is reported to have debated the plans, and speculation as to the outcome is growing.

It is dispiriting that, after so much discussion, the issue still seems to be defined largely by a sterile 'environment vs growth' debate. As our organisations have argued throughout the process, the two are not in conflict. Good planning is essential for ensuring sustainable economic prosperity, at the same time as it encourages urban renewal and protects the countryside.

The current planning system on the whole does not stand in the way of development. 80-90 per cent of planning applications are granted permission. But reform is certainly needed, if the costs that planning imposes are not to outweigh the longer term benefits it provides.

Ministers have a chance now to ensure that the final policy is one that the nation can be proud of, rather than the starting gun for years of dispute and legal wrangling that will ultimately impose even more burdens on businesses. The yardsticks of success will be: a strong definition of sustainable development that gives equal weight to economic, environmental and social objectives; a presumption in favour of sustainable development that does not make it more difficult to refuse environmentally damaging developments; continued protection for designated areas, landscapes and heritage assets alongside explicit recognition of the value of the countryside as a whole; and a clear priority given to new development on previously developed (brownfield) sites where these are not otherwise of value to wildlife.

Peter Waine, Chair, Campaign to Protect Rural England
Paula Ridley, Chair, Civic Voice
Loyd Grossman, Chair, The Heritage Alliance
Sir Simon Jenkins, Chair, National Trust
Ian Darling FRICS, Chair, RSPB
Paul Wickham, Chair, Wildlife Trusts