There have been some well aired rows in the press over national planning policy. Some in the Council for the protection of Rural England and the National Trust have been implying the new planning rules coming in will make it possible for developers to build on green belt or to erode the other important protections afforded to some of our countryside.
I was most concerned to read this. I contacted Greg Clarke, the planning Minister, to explain that in Wokingham we do not want to be forced into building on protected areas that we value. He reassured me that is not the intention.
Currently some land has Green belt status. This will remain a national designation, and the future protection of it will continue as before. Some land is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. SSSIs will remain as before, with special protection.
Some of the important green gaps between settlements, high grade agricultural land and leisure space is not protected by one of these national legal frameworks. This is where the government’s new policy of localism comes in. The Council can designate land as important to remain without development for a variety of good reasons. This may include green gaps between settlements, agricultural and landscape value, leisure use, and absence of suitable transport and other services to enable the construction of sustainable communities. Once land is specified with protection in the local plan, that will inform and direct Planning Inspectors to turn down applications should anyone wish to test out the opportunity for developing it.
The government is changing the presumption for other land. If land is not specially designated with a national protection or in the local plan as being permanent green space, then there will be a presumption in favour of sustainable development. This makes the contents of the local plan even more
important. The Council needs to make sure it has protected the important green spaces that have most popular support, as the complement to its policy of concentrating development in its own preferred locations.
I am sure people in Wokingham will want continuing protection – preferably better protection – for important areas free from development, as some offset for development in the designated sites. I will support the Council on appeal where it has designated land for protection, should need arise.