The debate around the future of England's planning rules has got a lot of people rather hot under the collar and the broadsheets are joining in, no doubt relishing the prospect of another Coalition u-turn.
The Government certainly seems to be sending out mixed messages. The news that Greg Clark, the Planning Minister, was willing to hold talks with pro-countryside campaigners was welcome, but it was accompanied by a warning that the reforms would go ahead. And George Osborne and Eric Pickles joined forces in an apparently co-authored piece in the FT, in which they stated that the Government was "determined to win the battle" on planning.
Now these are rather mixed messages. It's great that the Government wants to talk, but there needs to be a sign that they will also listen to the concerns of campaign groups, led by the National Trust. The rather clumsy messaging of the last few days seems to imply that Clark, Osborne and Pickles simply want to correct the misapprehensions of a bunch of deluded rabble-rousers (does this sound like the National Trust to you?).
That's not really good enough. The problem with conducting a war of words via the media is that the detail of an argument gets lost. And it works both ways. Politicians, of all people, should know that. It is the job of NGOs to challenge Governments when their policies seem questionable and it is the democratic duty of those Governments to listen. Some of the mudslinging and insults that have been directed at campaigning NGOs over the past few weeks have been crass and puerile. It is not how our elected representatives should behave. They work for us, after all.
To make the RSPB's position clear, we are happy for the complicated planning system to be streamlined, and we agree that there is a legitimate need for housing and development. But that development should not be allowed to cause irreparable damage to our countryside and wildlife.
So, we are calling on the Government to put the name-calling and rhetoric behind them, and asking them to sit down sensibly with environmental groups to find a solution that supports economic recovery, protects nature, and shows greater respect for the concerns of people in rural communities.
Quite right Martin!
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