Greg Clark, Planning Minister, Says There's No Hidden Agenda' Over Planning Reforms
The Government has insisted there is no "malign intent or hidden agenda" in its planning reforms in the face of a huge outcry over the proposals.
Adopting a more conciliatory tone than that shown by ministers in recent weeks towards opponents of the reforms, planning minister Greg Clark said the current public consultation over the proposals is genuine.
Ministers have previously expressed a determination to "win the battle" over the draft reforms, which slim down 1,000 pages of policy to 52 and focus on a "presumption in favour of sustainable development".
The Government says the changes to the planning system are needed to boost growth, give communities more say in their local area and protect the environment, but concerns have been raised they could lead to a return to urban sprawl and damaging construction
Mr Clark admitted that some of the draft National Planning Policy Framework may not be expressed in "the clearest way" but insisted there is no Government agenda to change the nature of planning.
At a seminar organised by the British Property Federation, Mr Clark said: "The idea that the Government and I would have any part in introducing a set of reforms that have an impact on the ability of local people to express themselves and did anything to undermine the protections to the natural and historic environments that all my life I've been passionate about is simply not the case."
He said the presumption in favour of sustainable development - which opponents say has not been explicitly defined - is not intended to introduce a "loophole" through which development could be imposed on local communities.
Countryside and environmental campaigners have claimed the reforms tip the balance too far in favour of short-term economic growth instead of protecting the environment, and ministers had labelled those who criticised the planned changes as "semi-hysterical", "left-wingers" and of "nihilistic selfishness" for opposing housing development.
Prime Minister David Cameron, however, wrote to the National Trust on Wednesday assuring them that sustainable development is about maintaining balance between economic, environmental and social concerns, sentiments echoed by Mr Clark.
The planning minister said that when "1,000 pages is cut down to a document which is 50-odd pages it is inevitably the case that not everything is expressed in the clearest way, but that doesn't signal any malign intent or hidden agenda to subvert the process".