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Critics hail changes to planning

Critics of the Government's controversial planning reforms have welcomed key changes prompted by widespread outcry over the new rules.

However concerns remained over whether the bid to slim down planning policy from more than 1,000 pages to less than 50 will deliver on promises to protect the countryside and wildlife and build more affordable homes for families.

While business leaders were quick to back the simplification of planning rules, which they said would help tackle housing shortages and revitalise high streets, campaigners said the proof would be in how the changes worked in practice.

Ministers say reforms of the planning system, which focus on a "presumption in favour of sustainable development", are necessary to tackle bureaucracy and boost growth and jobs, while protecting the environment and communities.

But countryside organisations reacted angrily to draft plans published last July, raising concerns that they could lead to inappropriate development in the countryside - in particular, areas which were not protected by existing rules.

Communities Minister Greg Clark published the final version of the national planning policy framework, outlining a number of changes in a bid to answer concerns sparked when the draft version was published.

The default "yes" to development in the draft version, described by the National Trust as "incendiary", has gone and a clearer definition of "sustainable development" has been included.

There is also a return to an explicit "brownfield first" requirement, which demands councils favour previously used land for new development over greenfield sites as long as they do not have high environmental value.

The National Trust, whose petition calling for a rethink on the draft reforms attracted 230,000 signatures, said the changes from the first version of the plans improved the document and gave it "better tone and balance".

But Dame Fiona Reynolds, director general of the Trust said: "The country needs huge effort at a local level to get plans in place that properly reflect the integration of social, economic and environmental goals, and protect places people value."

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