Planning in the Media

The latest controversy to grip the government concerns its plans to force national parks to promote economic development in response to their local communities, prompting fears that the country's most precious landscapes could be destroyed.

The Guardian quoted Campaign to Protect Rural England policy director Neil Sinden, who said that adding economic development to the parks' duties of protecting the landscape and promoting public enjoyment "would subvert the other objectives".

Campaign for National Parks deputy chief executive Ruth Chambers also told the paper that threatened cuts would make it harder to protect landscapes in the face of pressure to create jobs.

Fiona Matthias, in the Sunday Telegraph, pointed out that national parks are already run on a "big society" model, with hundreds of volunteers working on guiding, planting and building projects. "Those living, working and depending on our national parks for their livelihoods should have the biggest say in how they change."

Meanwhile, veteran environment correspondent Geoffrey Lean wondered whether conservation stops at home. Launching a blistering attack in The Daily Telegraph on environment secretary Caroline Spelman, he argued that while she played a key role in securing a biodiversity agreement at the UN conference in Nagoya, Japan, at home she has "set about weakening our national parks".

But Lean reserved particular criticism for DEFRA's move to stop Natural England and the Environment Agency from tackling policy, alongside the abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

"This removes all sources of independent advice and - as ministers admit is the point - criticism. Spelman believes that policy should be monopolised by her department because it is 'democratically accountable'. Of course she does. This move could only be welcomed by those who think Whitehall knows best."

Dozens of flood prevention schemes will be cancelled and hundreds of thousands of homes left unprotected in the wake of a review by the Environment Agency, according to The Times.

The cuts to flood prevention will be greater than the government suggested in the comprehensive spending review. National Flood Forum chief executive Mary Dhonau warned that this would leave many homes unable to obtain insurance.

The biggest casualty is likely to be a £150 million scheme to protect Leeds, which has no flood defences and was seriously damaged in 2007. The Independent on Sunday warned that millions of homeowners living near the sea or a river face a "flood tax" under plans to plug a £260 million shortfall in defence spending.

The government believes that from 2012 the cost of protecting homes and businesses should be "shared" with those who directly benefit. In return for the levy - on top of higher premiums in flood risk areas - communities would have a greater say in which areas are protected.


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