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The BBC's Alva McNicol
"The government has unveiled a radical blueprint that will see huge changes"
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Environment Minister Michael Meacher
"We've adopted the toughest ever targets to avoid building on green field sites"
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The BBC's Alva McNicol
"The council is concerned the government will favour more mass housing"
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Saturday, 11 December, 1999, 07:20 GMT
Cautious welcome for green belt overhaul

The report says local councils should be given more power in green belt policy

Plans for a dramatic overhaul of building restrictions in the green belt have been given a cautious welcome by countryside campaigners.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) said the most important aspect of a new Cabinet Office report is that it will encourage more debate about how to protect the countryside.

The report says there should be a "general presumption in favour of market forces" when new planning rules are drawn up.

A spokeswoman for the CPRE said an overview of planning restrictions was long overdue.

She said by putting appropriate planning regulations in place, farms would be able to make better use of unused buildings.

And property owners would be able to encourage new businesses onto their land, which would help ailing rural communities, she said.

But the CPRE remains concerned that the government will favour more mass housing developments.

Centrepiece of rural policy

The report by the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit said that the post-war policy framework for rural areas was in need of a major rethink.

The report, which was welcomed by Environment Minister Michael Meacher, could lead to a major relaxation of the green belt, which has been the centrepiece of rural policy since the 1940s.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrats warned that the proposals signalled a new drive by the government to "concrete over" greenfield areas.

But Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there would be "no footloose development".

"Any suggestion that the government is going to concrete over the countryside is ridiculous," he said.

"We are actually protecting the countryside."

The report said local councils should be given greater discretion in setting planning policy, which should reflect the wishes of the whole community, "not just vociferous minorities".

It said: "There are opportunities to make the planning system more supportive of an enterprising countryside without jeopardising the rural environment, by striking a better balance between the local deliberative process and national regulations.

Shift in attitudes

"Such an approach would allow the removal of unnecessary national regulations and guidance in order to facilitate changes of commercial use, farm diversification and the conversion of redundant buildings for commercial purposes."

The report said existing policies were drawn up when food was in short supply and country-dwellers were moving to towns and cities.

The aim was to protect agriculture, but since then there had been a radical shift in attitudes, with more people wanting to live in the countryside, which was no longer just seen as a source of agricultural produce.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman stressed the report was a discussion document only.

The CPRE plans to put forward its own proposals before the government publishes its white paper on rural policy next year.

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See also:
13 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Prescott under pressure over housing
28 Apr 99 |  UK
Vodafone gets go-ahead for greenbelt development
29 Mar 99 |  UK
Agency to 'revive the countryside'
02 Jul 98 |  UK
Battle to curb housing in countryside
27 Jan 98 |  Politics
Labour homes policy comes under fire

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