THE GOVERNMENT'S controversial new planning bill published yesterday aimed at speeding up England's lumbering planning system has already caused a major split between countryside organisations.
On one side, opposed to the Bill, is one of the biggest coalitions of conservation charities ever gathered together. On the other, the big landowners who have for years been frustrated by huge delays, and often rejection, of planning permission to set up new businesses to bring jobs to rural areas.
The Planning Reform Bill will remove many such decisions from local councils and hand them to a new planning quango staffed by civil servants, which conservationists fear will give permission for new roads, housing estates, power station, airports and out-of-town superstores to be built despite local opposition.
It is being opposed by some of the best known charities in Britain: AirportWatch, Campaign for Better Transport, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Campaign to Protect Rural Wales (CPRW), the Civic Trust, Council for National Parks, Enough's Enough, Friends of the Earth, the Grasslands Trust, The National Trust, the Ramblers, the RSPB, UKRIGS, The Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust.
They claim that the Government is ignoring the results of months of consultation - which included no fewer than 32,000 individual responses mostly opposed to the proposals - and it ploughing ahead with its original plans.
Britain's biggest landowners, represented by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which claims to represent everyone who lives and works in the countryside, took the opposite view.
It issued a statement saying:"The government has a real opportunity to take huge strides in modernising the planning system when it introduces the Planning Reform Bill, which will bring long awaited reforms to help simplify the planning system as well as introducing transparency, efficiency and consistency."