I spend a lot of time criss-crossing the South East and it’s often true that the issues people want to talk about on the doorstep aren’t the same ones that lead the news headlines.
So as the financial crisis dominates the front pages there is one important issue that is being overlooked.
Planning policy is in chaos and there are fears that a new phase of building could be launched in the Sussex countryside as rules are relaxed and greenbelt land is made fair game for developers.
The Conservative-led Government is currently consulting on changes to the planning system which would water down safeguards that have protected the countryside for almost 70 years.
The Government is pushing through plans to replace 1,300 pages of planning regulations with 52 pages. The rule changes include a new “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, without defining clearly what it means.
The reforms are being widely opposed by the National Trust, local communities, the Women’s Institute and author Bill Bryson as well as the Telegraph’s ‘Hands off our Land’ campaign.
Well, ‘Hands off Sussex’ is the message I want Ministers to hear. We need a simpler planning system but the price doesn’t have to be our countryside.
This is one of the most beautiful parts of England and our green spaces shouldn’t be put at risk so developers can go for a quick buck. The proposals fail to protect the everyday places local communities love. They should be scrapped and re-written.
The reforms are especially worrying given a recent ‘cash for access’ row following Telegraph revelations that developers were paying to meet senior Conservative MPs. The Conservative Planning Forum raises around £150,000 a year for the Tory party and charges members £2,500 to meet senior MPs to discuss policy and planning issues.
Ministers have branded concerns as nonsense but they need to listen. Their proposals are completely out of touch with how people feel in the towns and villages across Sussex. They are alienating rural and urban voters. I want to see a ‘brownfield first’ approach that would see unused urban land developed first and green space protected.
We should focus on making better use of the land we have rather than tarmacking over our green spaces.
If you want to get in touch about planning (or any other issue) just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And don’t forget you can learn more on my website (www.peterskinnermep.eu) and you can follow me on Twitter (@PWSkinnerMEP) and Facebook (Peter Skinner MEP).