Urban sprawl warning as councils miss plan deadline
Campaigners have warned of "irreversible loss of countryside" in Devon and Cornwall as councils struggle to implement Government planning reforms.
Six local authorities across the two counties are set to miss this month's deadline for adopting so-called "Local Plans" that dictate where development can take place.
Those that fail to do so will be subject to the Government's planning blueprint, which says officials must say "yes" to building new houses, offices and power plants that are deemed "sustainable".
Critics claim this "assumption in favour" risks despoiling the countryside and will lead to urban sprawl.
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The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says 52% of councils in England have yet to adopt their "Local Plan", including authorities in Cornwall and Torbay, East Devon, North Devon, Torridge and Teignbridge in Devon.
The CPRE wants councils to be given an extra year to bring their Local Plans in line with new Whitehall planning guidance.
Neil Sinden, director of policy and campaigns for CPRE, says: "It is not too late for the Government to take action to ensure their planning reforms do not result in a rash of damaging development and irreversible loss of countryside.
"Of those councils with no plan, 23% have started the process of having a plan adopted; this extra time would therefore allow a significant proportion of councils to get their plans in place."
Meanwhile, the National Trust has warned of the risk of inappropriate construction schemes, which prompt conflict in communities, against a backdrop of an unprecedented number of threats to the countryside.
Potential flashpoints include wind farms, a proposed high-speed rail line and the prospect of "fracking" for shale gas, said National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins.
But Planning Minister Nick Boles dismissed suggestions that councils falling back on the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) would lead to a free-for-all.
He said the figures are "misleading" since 70% of local councils now have published – if not adopted – Local Plans and "good progress" is being made with the remainder.
The Conservative minister said: "Up to date Local Plans provide certainty to both local residents and local firms, and we have offered councils a range of practical assistance to help them get up to speed.
"There are strong protections in place for the Green Belt, open countryside and areas of outstanding natural beauty when considering planning applications against the planning framework as a whole."
In council areas without a local plan, communities will find it difficult to stop applications to build anywhere as long as the application is compliant with the NPPF.
When the NPPF was unveiled in last March's Budget – after a fierce campaign from countryside groups – Chancellor George Osborne gave councils a 12-month "transitional period" to prepare for the new rules.
Councils have had to develop their masterplan targets for building houses, offices and factories at the same time as deep cuts to central government funding.
Mendip, South Somerset, West Somerset and West Dorset have also yet to sign-off on their Local Plans.
Councils to have adopted their plans include Devon authorities Plymouth, Exeter, Mid Devon, South Hams and West Devon, and Sedgemoor and Taunton Deane in Somerset.
Last year, the Western Morning News found councils were looking to build 200,000 new homes across Cornwall, Devon and Somerset in the next two decades.
The plans replace unpopular and arbitrary regional targets, which forced councils to build more houses than they believed were necessary.
A joint Local Plan for North Devon and Torridge is currently out for public consultation, and "adoption" is forecast for next spring.Teignbridge published its proposed plan in November but is still at an "early stage".
East Devon has completed its final public consultation but does not anticipate the Local Plan will be adopted until autumn. Torbay is "reviewing" its plan published last year.