Simon Jenkins says campaigners will fight ‘in every meadow’

National Trust chairman Simon Jenkins has warned of “war” between developers and countryside campaigners over new developments if both councils and housebuilders don’t change course.

Jenkins, speaking at the Home Builders’ Federation’s spring conference yesterday, said the current lack of robust plans in many local authorities could lead to an avalanche of legal action with developers taken to court over “every meadow in the land”.

Under the government’s National Planning Policy Framework, local authorities without an up-to-date plan will have to apply a “presumption in favour of development” to speculative applications or be vulnerable to legal challenge by the developer.

Jenkins said that he agreed the country needed to build more homes, but that they should be effectively planned for. He said: “If you don’t have a plan, and if developers then rush in, the result will not be that you can let rip with development. You’ll be taken to court in every meadow in the land.

“The planning system is necessary. Where it stops, you get fights. And today, god knows, you’ve got fights. It’s warfare out there.

“[But] by going down the route of warfare, you’ll get less land for building. I can’t believe that you [housebuilders] want this.”

Jenkins used the example of Stow-in-the-Wold in the Cotswolds, where he said local residents were being forced to accept an increase in the size of their village within five years. He said: “There has to be a way to some extent to get their consent for this, or you’re going to get resistance.”

Malcolm Harris, chair of housebuilder Bovis, said Jenkins’ comments were “quite naive” because a planning system based entirely on localism would never deliver the necessary number of homes.

He said: “We can’t just rely on local people voting for new housing, we have to say that it is required nationally. In my experience even on a small scheme people will fight to the bitter end.”