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The Quickest Way of Ending a War is to Lose It

28/03/2012 14:10 | Updated 28 May 2012

In the end it was not with a bang but a whipped and chastened planning minister that the conflict over planning reform finally ceased. Countryside Armistice Day shall forever now be Tuesday 27 March 2012.

After eight months and countless barbs delivered on unsuspecting casualties, the government stepped forward and delivered a re-drafted set of planning regulations that, to much surprise, united the majority of participants in this harrowing conflict in accord.

"A good day for anyone who cares about our countryside" declared the headline on the Daily Telegraph; who had assumed the role of chief media outlet for the resistance. "This gives us the chance to get things right" said Dame Fiona Reynolds of the National Trust; the loving mother-figure of the homeland. And "without the changes announced it would have been open season on the countryside" pronounced the CPRE's Shaun Spiers; the gung-ho commandant of the defending army.

Credit came where it was due, and Greg Clark - described in Alice Thomson's Times column today as 'Clark Kent' by one Tory minister ("he looks like a wimp but he's achieved the impossible") - is now receiving praise from all quarters for listening to the concerns of the rural organisations and amending the framework accordingly.

So the countryside is safe once again and economic growth can get on with growing. But whenever hostilities cease it is often pertinent to consider how we got drawn into this situation. The Daily Mail (who along with Greenpeace and the Labour Party are about the only people who have found fault with the new NPPF) have decided - in light of recent events - that it was the developer donors to the Conservative Party that were to blame. Simon Jenkins, in his unusually generous column, agrees.

I suspect that the Chancellor was asking business for things he could do to get the economy moving and they all listed the now-defunct planning regime as their top problem. Add in a grievous undersupply of affordable housing and a stagnant housing market, and it makes sense that a new planning framework would 'prioritise growth'. The failure was for the Government to take its eye off the countryside concern, and then to lash out when that failure was exposed.

As the title of this article suggests (with full credit to George Orwell) the quickest way for Clark and co to dig themselves out of the hole they had dug was to concede defeat, and it is no mean feat that they did so yesterday in a manner that has drawn praise from most quarters.

However the countryside must not go back to being ignored. According to figures from the Rural Shops Alliance, rural shops are closing at a rate of around 33 per month across the UK, with around 12% of independent shops closing in 2010 alone. Rural primary schools are closing at the rate of one a month because of a lack of affordable housing for families, and around 900 rural pubs closed last year. Figures from the Countryside Alliance found that rural drivers are paying over 4p more per litre at the pump than those in urban areas, and the cost of commuting to work adds at least an extra £17 onto the family bills each month. Rates of fuel poverty are much higher in the countryside and the average broadband speed pails in comparison to Britain's towns and cities.

Getting our planning laws right was a big issue to ensure we protect our green spaces. But the countryside is not just pretty fields and forests; it is a living, breathing environment and the people who live there need to be listened to on all the issues, not just those that make prime time.