Forgive me if I indulge myself by starting this post with a quote from Barack Obama: "A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, 'Huh. It works. It makes sense.'" True enough. But President Obama has doubtless learned, during his time in office, that it is exceptionally difficult to achieve this perfect compromise in practice. Across the pond, David Cameron is learning that the perfect compromise is well-nigh impossible.

The media is continuing to take a keen interest in the controversy surrounding the Government’s proposed reforms to the English planning system. The Telegraph, which has a reasonable claim to be the official newspaper of the English Shires, is leading the charge, putting loyalty to its rural readership ahead of allegiance to the Conservative leadership. It obviously realises that it sells more copies to grass-roots party members than it is ever likely to sell to members of the Cabinet. And it is doing a fine job with its Hands Off Our Land campaign.

The Telegraph ran an interesting front page yesterday. “Stop locals resisting developers: New rules will mean more building, not less, says author of Coalition’s planning changes”. This appeared to be a startling revelation from John Rhodes, who co-authored the Advisory Group report that informed the draft National Planning Policy Framework. Mr Rhodes, “a leading planning consultant” is reported to have said that the new rules, “would inevitably mean ‘more development, not less’”.

This seems, on the face of it, a little worrying. But I feel obliged to point out a couple of things. If you read down the article, you discover that these comments were made in December 2010, two weeks before John Rhodes was even appointed to the Advisory Group by Greg Clark. Certainly it was before the group actually met. It’s worth reading the comments made by Simon Marsh of the RSPB in another blog, himself a member of the Advisory Group, who says that the panel inevitably found it necessary to make compromises. From our own perspective, these compromises between the various panel members did not go far enough and we are continuing to lobby against the primacy given to economic development - essentially providing the presumption in favour of development. You can help too, by joining our campaign.

The second thing that’s worth noting is that John Rhodes, whether speaking in December 2010 or September 2011, does not speak on behalf of the whole group. All members of the Advisory Group were invited as private individuals, on the basis of their experience. They did not act on behalf of any organisation or employer. Simon Marsh was no exception. The RSPB, of course, approved his involvement on the Panel, but we have never endorsed the resulting report or its recommendations. And that’s because the report was, inevitably, a compromise.

And the government's version of the National Planning Policy Framework is not yet a "good compromise", according to the Obama definition. A lot of people are not recognising it, and fewer still believe it makes sense.

But it was better, from our point of view, that Simon was involved in the process that led to the draft NPPF, than that he wasn’t. And it is worth remembering that the Government's NPPF is still a draft- theoretically subject to the consultation that is currently underway. Our job is clear - we will continue our efforts to ensure that wildlife and the environment are weighed equally against economic ones, and that the Government listens to our concerns.

  • Thanks Martin, and thanks to the RSPB for alerting us all to this very real threat to our natural environment.   If we as communities are to truly be a part of this planning process in the future we must start right now and campaign with you to ensure that we have a National Planning Policy Framework to be proud of, with genuine sustainable development at its heart. Our natural environment is so important to us all; it underpins our economy and is core to our well-being. We urge everyone who cares about wildlife and countryside to have their say, just click on the link (it's so easy) and send a letter to the government before it's too late! We can make a difference, we just have to step up and be a voice for nature.

    Gill, Joan and George

    Friends of the North Kent Marshes

    Conservation and Communities United