Rural planning rules 'to be relaxed'

THE Government is set to pave the way for more building in the countryside – by relaxing planning rules to create new industrial jobs and affordable homes.

THE Government is set to pave the way for more building in the countryside - by relaxing planning rules to create new industrial jobs and affordable homes.

Business leaders in Suffolk gave a cautious welcome to the news last night - saying red-tape had hampered many firms trying to set up premises in rural areas.

But there was a storm of protest from critics, who claimed the plans were flawed and took too much power away from local councils.

The move aims to target the so-called Nimby ('not in my back yard') mentality of shire councils - reducing the grounds on which they can reject new building, while creating more industrial jobs and encouraging the conversion of agricultural buildings into new homes.

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A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: "What we are trying to do is to balance out the absolute need to ensure a thriving rural economy for those without jobs and homes, while ensuring that we preserve the English countryside which is incredibly important and must be protected."

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott may strip local councils of their power to block building on greenfield sites.

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But the spokesman added that for a planning application on a greenfield site to be successful, it would have to be a proposal of "incredible importance and necessity" for the community.

Last night, Bob Feltwell, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: "We have members of the Chamber throughout the county in rural areas who are hampered by planning regulations when they come to expand their businesses.

"We would hope there would be a relaxation of the planning guidelines to help businesses to expand and develop in rural areas. We are not necessarily saying we support the use of greenfield land.

"If people want more jobs in Suffolk they have to be spread around the county and it helps the environment if people do not have to travel great distances to work."

Paul Long, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association, said it was a "good thing" that planning permission would be easier but added that brownfield sites should still be concentrated on.

"We agree with John Prescott that jobs in rural areas are important but we do feel that any development in rural areas has got to be done very carefully and sympathetically.

"However, I do not think it is going to be as easy as it sounds to get jobs in rural areas. I don't think anything is going to happen for a very long time."

John Hall, director of Essex Wildlife Trust, said that instead of removing all the controls it was necessary to establish how important the land was for wildlife and for the local community before building was given the go-ahead.

He added: "We do not want to stop development but to make sure that development goes on in the right place and is appropriate.

"It does not matter if the land is in a village, a town or a suburb, but it is what is affected that is important."

Carol Deslandes , deputy chief executive of Suffolk ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), said: "On the surface it means there will be more affordable homes, which in turn lead to more balanced communities. There would be other age spans; more economically viable places and it may also lead to schools being retained in rural areas.

"The flip side is that unless there is consultation with the local community, and the parish council has a route into this, then more and more executive homes will be built, which will not enable the balanced community side of things to happen.

"I think the best way to approach it is with a degree of caution."

She added that communities, such as those in Suffolk, which are based on farming and agriculture, historically encounter difficulties when they try to drive alternative industries and the jobs created by the initiative could be just a "short, sharp fix."

Neil Greig, head of planning policy and economic development at Babergh District Council, said that the council had stated a preference that conversions of existing buildings should be for employment opportunities rather than housing.

He said: "Our policies all look towards sympathetic development. I am not convinced that this is going to cause a great problem."

A spokesperson for Suffolk Coastal District Council said: "These rumoured changes appear to be aimed at those counties which have not been as effective as Suffolk in meeting the housing needs of their local population."

Under the plans, local authorities would still make the final decisions on planning applications but use the new policy guidance.

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