CONTROVERSIAL planning reforms are already being used to approve building developments that could result in large arts of Thurrock being concreted over.
Planning officials have cited the Government’s proposed changes to the planning system in a series of contentious decisions even though the new guidelines have yet to come into force.
Approval has been granted to developments that will see meadows and green fields making way for new housing, office buildings and industrial lorry parks. Housing developers have also begun using the reforms to appeal planning refusals.
The disclosure shows that the new “presumption in favour of development” and the end of the “brownfield first” rule in the current system which limits development in rural areas are being used already to decide whether building goes ahead.
The revelations come after just days after Prime Minister David Cameron stepped into the escalating war of words between ministers and campaigners over the reforms in a bid to offer reassurances that the new planning system would continue to protect the countryside reports the Daily Telegraph.
His attempt to defuse the row will involve direct talks with the leading critics of the new planning rules, including the National Trust.
But their concerns are likely to grow with the disclosure that the system is already being used.
The new framework is currently undergoing a consultation period due to end next month.
Environmental campaigners, led by the National Trust, have warned the new guidelines will allow unchecked development of the countryside if they remain in their current form by placing economic growth at the forefront of the policy.
The use of the draft National Planning Policy Framework in current decisions give a strong indication of how the new guidelines will be applied when they are adopted as policy, campaigners warned yesterday.
Paul Miner, senior planning office from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said it was concerning that the draft reforms were already being applied in planning decisions before the public consultation had even ended.
He said: “It is worrying that the NPPF is already being implemented despite being out for consultation still and could cause a lot of harm to the countryside.
“These are a good illustration of how local protection for rural areas will be lost under the NPPF and are a strong indication of what the future will hold under the reforms.”
It can now be revealed, however, that the proposed reforms are already influencing decisions to grant planning permission for developments in some of the most rural parts of the country.
In Rutland, planning inspectors overruled a council decision to reject an application to build 96 houses on an area of countryside that had been designated as protected under local plans, citing the NPPF seven times in the appeal decision.
Rutland County Council rejected the application as it did not fit with its local development plan, which ministers insist will give power to local authorities and communities to decide what will be built in their area.
An application to build 171 homes and additional office buildings on an area of Green Belt near Redditch was also approved with reference to the NPPF last month following an appeal to the local authority.
Redditch Borough Council granted permission after considering the development provided economic benefits and a planning officer’s report said the development complied with the draft NPPF.
House builders have also been using the draft NPPF to support their applications.
In Malmesbury, Wiltshire, housing developer Gleeson has written to the town council making extensive reference to the NPPF as underpinning its intention to apply for planning permission for 200 homes on green fields to the north of the town, on the edge of the Cotswolds.
Taylor Wimpey, which is appealing against a decision to reject an application to build of 37 homes in the village of Kingswood, Surrey, has submitted documents to the Planning Inspectorate stating its development fits with the sustainable criteria that would result in a default “yes” under the NPPF’s presumption in favour of development.
It comes after the Planning Inspectorate issued guidance that stated the draft framework could be used as a material consideration in planning decisions as it indicated a “clear indication of the Government’s ‘direction of travel’ in planing policy”
A spokesman for the National Trust said the use of the NPPF as a material consideration in planning decisions gave a strong indication of what may happen when it passes into law.
She said: “This is a prime example of where the NPPF, currently under consultation, is already being used as material consideration in planning decisions.
“This is precisely what failure looks like when the planning system puts ‘sustainable development’ ahead of social and environmental considerations.”
Bob Neill, the communities minister, insisted the draft NPPF was not being applied before the consultation had ended.
He said: “It will only become national policy after the consultation period, when a final text, taking account of responses, will be published.
“Ministers and the inspectorate have agreed that the framework is considered as a draft by inspectors.”