Northamptonshire has earned the name The Rose of the Shires for a reason.
Our rolling green countryside and picturesque villages such as Weekley and Gretton are what England is all about.
We are a rural county, with miles of uninterrupted green fields and networks of footpaths and bridleways winding through this idyllic setting.
But according to the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Northamptonshire’s countryside could be at increased risk from development as a result of the Government’s reforms of the planning system.
Eighty-five per cent of our countryside is classed as ‘undesignated’, which means it is not protected as a conservation area, heritage site, ancient woodland or other special designation.
The government says it wants to simplify Britain’s complex planning system, which would see more than 1,000 pages of regulations replaced with just 52 pages.
It says the changes are necessary to kick-start house building, which is stalling partly due to the economic crisis, and says the default answer to development should be ‘Yes’.
Planning minister Bob Neill said: “The Government is determined to deliver a simpler planning system which makes absolutely clear the Government’s intention to provide the homes and jobs that the next generation needs while protecting our priceless countryside.
“The planning system has always enshrined the principle that the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development should be considered in a balanced way – and it will continue to do so.”
But the CPRE says while current planning laws recognise the instrinsic value of the wider countryside, the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) omits such a policy.
Fiona Howie, head of planning at CPRE, said: “We are not seeking a national policy that would prevent all development.
“But if we are to avoid damaging the character of rural areas by making it easier for inappropriate, speculative building to take place – a bungalow here, a distribution shed there – decision makers must be encouraged to take account of the intrinsic value of the wider countryside when considering development proposals.
“The imminent changes to the planning system should ensure it is not only the specially designated areas that are valued.”
Northamptonshire has one of the highest proportions of undesignated countryside, putting us most at risk of development.
A report by CPRE Northamptonshire said: “CPRE is not and never has been anti-development. We believe that good quality housing, and especially affordable housing, is vital both to the rural economy and to the quality of life of those who want to live in the countryside.
“We are determinedly anti-sprawl. We don’t like treasured landscapes being desecrated so that landowners can put up a few executive houses and then retire to sunny climes.
“We don’t believe house-builders who say they have to build on fields when they are sitting on enormous banks of land, which they are not developing because in this economic climate the profit margins are unacceptable to them.
“We do believe that the planning system is ripe for overhaul – while it has been effective over the decades, it has not been efficient.
“Government ministers – including the Prime Minister – have made assertions that the country’s green belts, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are safe. Such assertions are of no value to our Northamptonshire countryside, which doesn’t have them.”
Kettering Council has also raised concerns about the lack of protection for the rural parts of the county.
A report to councillors says: “The NPPF requires that landscapes including National Parks, the Broads and Areas of Outstanding Beauty are protected.
“Kettering Borough’s countryside may not be nationally designated, but it makes a positive contribution to the character of the area and is of huge value to existing and new residents.
“The presumption in favour for sustainable development threatens the character of the area’s valuable countryside.”