Here is a copy of my letter.
I strongly support the CPRE campaign to minimise the damage to our productive and beautiful countryside, under Government proposals more than half of it would not be adequately protected from development.
Green Belts, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty make up about 40% of the English countryside. I welcome the commitment to retaining special protections for these areas. But here in Somerset we are also concerned about what the Wildlife Trust calls Living Landscapes. I am concerned that the Government’s reforms to the planning system through the National Planning Policy Framework will remove protection for these important areas of the countryside. Currently, countryside is protected for ‘its intrinsic character and beauty’ but its also vital for its role in enabling the production of food, maintaining the quality of the air we breath and the water we drink.
This policy of protecting the quality of the open countryside has been in place for decades and has been supported by successive governments during times of growth and recession. It doesn’t prevent all development but it has helped ensure that ordinary, though valuable, countryside is not unnecessarily lost to speculative development.
For almost 20 years there has also been a requirement that previously developed land – otherwise known as brownfield land - should be developed before green fields. The Government is also proposing to abandon this policy. Yet, a new report commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Building on a Small Island, demonstrates that the supply of previously developed land is actually increasing, including in high demand areas, and that England has previously developed land suitable for providing 1.5 million new homes. I know that some previously developed sites can be important for wildlife but surely these can be protected without scrapping the brownfield-first policy altogether?
Protecting the countryside and building on previously developed land go hand in hand. Time is running out to persuade the Government to think again. I gather that Ministers are currently considering the final changes to be made to their new planning policies.
Please raise my concerns with the Planning Minister, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, and urge him to ensure that the National Planning Policy Framework makes it absolutely clear that the countryside as a whole needs continued protection, and that building on previously developed sites first should remain an important planning priority.