PM pledges to safeguard the environment through responsible planning reform

David Cameron has written to the National Trust to reassure its members that he shares their commitment to the environment, and to urge them to enter a dialogue over planning reform.

Although seeking to placate the Trust, the PM’s letter makes plain he has no plans to dilute the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The Prime Minister’s personal approach to the group comes after its director general Dame Fiona Reynolds said she would not enter discussions with planning minister Greg Clark without first receiving “a clear statement, from the highest levels of government, clarifying that the planning system is not there principally to promote economic development”.

Cameron writes that he shares and admires the charity’s dedication to the countryside, and that he “wholeheartedly agrees” that policymakers have a duty to protect it.

He goes on: “Our reform proposals are intended to simplify the system, strengthen local participation and secure sustainable development. I believe that sustainable development has environmental and social dimensions as well as an economic dimension, and we fully recognise the need for a balance between the three. Indeed, the purpose of the planning system as a whole, and of our proposals for it, is to achieve such a balance.”

Outlining the safeguards the NPPF will provide for green belt land and other protected areas, Cameron adds:  “Of course, we must ensure the appropriate protections for our magnificent countryside. This is why our reforms will maintain protections for the green belt, for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty. It will introduce a new local green space designation which local communities can use to protect open places they value. And as you know, the framework insists on high environmental standards and good design. Poorly-designed and poorly-located development is in no-one’s interest. Our aim is to secure a planning system that supports growth and prosperity and protects the interests both of today’s communities and of generations to come.

Despite his conciliatory tone, the prime minister insists on the need for planning to support “objectives for growth and employment”.

Singing off, he promises to make space in his packed diary for talks with the Trust, and urges the charity to continue its dialogue with Greg Clark so that he can address “specific concerns”.   

The National Trust has welcomed Cameron’s intervention, saying he “made it clear that the planning reforms will serve the public interest by balancing social and environmental benefits with those of the economy”.

Dame Fiona said: “Our primary concern for the planning system is that it should be a neutral framework which balances the needs of society, the environment, as well as the economy. It is a great relief to hear from the Prime Minister that there is no intention to change this over-riding purpose.

“We will now do everything in our power to help shape the National Planning Policy Framework into a robust system which enables the people making the decisions to guide good development to the right places. Planning Minister Greg Clark has invited us to work with him to ensure the detail of the document reflects this brief, and we are keen to do so.

“The Trust will continue to encourage people to add their voices to our petition, as it is essential the government does not underestimate the strength of feeling among the population. As well as working with Mr Clark, we will be responding formally to the consultation.”

The British Property Federation also welcomed the letter and called for both sides of the debate to work together to find a solution.

Chief executive Liz Peace said: “The Prime Minister’s assurances that the draft NPPF does indeed mean what it says are welcome. Hopefully they will set the stage for a constructive debate that will help us to reform our glacially-slow planning system.

“As ministers consult on the draft NPPF it is entirely right that legitimate concerns are raised, and that these are discussed in a level-headed way. We have been in contact with a range of groups, including the National Trust and the RSPB, to find common ground. Indeed this has always been our preferred way of working to achieve sensible compromise.”