We have got used to the idea that we have a planning system in this country which is run by the local council and is designed to make sure that people can build things but only if they don't damage the environment or the local community. We can no longer rely on that.
The cause is a decision by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition to change the way that planning law works and to give a presumption in favour of development. As Melisa Kite, writing in the Daily Mail in 2013 explained:
"Developers wanting approval for housing schemes opposed by locals are simply appealing to the Government's National Planning Inspectorate - which often gives the go-ahead if councils haven't published their own plans for new housing"
The plans that the local councils are supposed to submit require them to identify enough development for five years worth of housing plus 5% and it is the National Planning Inspectorate not the local council which determines what enough development is. They are not easy to satisfy and so local councils are caught in a trap. They either identify the high volumes of housing demanded by the Inspectorate - and take much of the blame for a problem created elsewhere - or they have no plan and the housing is approved anyway.
Even when the council has a plan and is opposed to a scheme they can lose against a determined developer who is prepared to go to appeal. In a time of cuts, few councils have the financial resources or the staff time and knowledge needed to go through a planning process if there is even the remotest chance that they might lose.
As a result green-field sites that local people want to protect are under threat of development across North Yorkshire. People in villages such as Embsay have run major campaigns against drastic changes to the character of their environment not because they are opposed to affordable local housing or any development at all. Their opposition is to a lack of any real say about how much, where and when development will take place.
My own village of Cononley went through major growth with a development at Cononley Ings. This, with a few infill developments, should have met all reasonable needs for many years to come. But the National Planning Inspectorate ignores the past and insists on its five years growth plus 5%. The result is a scheme at Madge Bank, which because of traffic dangers is opposed by virtually the entire village, is at risk of getting the go ahead. The people of Ripon are currently facing similarly unwelcome development in Doublegates Quary and Ash Grove. Local people know and understand what is needed in the local environment.
The people opposing these schemes aren't opposed to all local development and fully understand the need to provide more local affordable housing. We simply want to keep in place sensible rules which have protected our environment for over 60 years. The Green Belt has been accepted policy by all major political parties since the Second World War and even earlier. It is now under threat by an ideologically driven conviction that unfettered private enterprise is good and planning laws are a pesky nuisance.
Like the vast majority of people I am very comfortable with responsible private enterprise. There are plenty of good construction companies who are putting forward well thought out planning proposals that will enhance the opportunities for local housing without wrecking the environment. Weakening planning laws is not a way to help or encourage them. It is a way to let cowboy developers undercut them and inflict lasting damage on our rural communities and our environment.
When did the Conservatives stop being in favour of conserving things?