Minister's comment raises green belt fears

New planning minister Nick Boles this week caused a stir by seeming to suggest that the green belt is only safe "for now".

Nicholas Boles: Planning minister comments raise fears
Nicholas Boles: Planning minister comments raise fears

Speaking during his first Commons appearance since replacing Greg Clark as planning minister, Boles responded to comments by Stuart Andrew, Conservative MP for West Yorkshire's Pudsey constituency, about threats to the green belt around Leeds. Boles said: "I can reassure him, for now, that there is nothing to stop Leeds City Council maintaining the protection of green belt land in its local plan."

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman insisted that there is "absolutely no change" in green belt policy. "The green belt is protected," he said.

Boles' appearance in the Commons followed an eventful first few days as planning minister, in which he met charities the RSPB and National Trust and was forced to defend comments he made on planning two years ago as a backbencher.

In 2010, Boles told a Westminster debate: "Do you believe planning works? That clever people sitting in a room can plan how people's communities should develop, or do you believe it can't work?

"I believe it can't work, David Cameron believes it can't, Nick Clegg believes it can't. Chaotic therefore in our vocabulary is a good thing."

When asked about the comments earlier this month on the BBC's Newsnight programme, Boles said: "Let me tell you something about newly elected MPs. We're a bit like young children. We're attention seekers and you're desperately trying to get noticed by someone and that's what I was trying to do there and I think I succeeded."

Boles, one of the Conservative Party's new intake of MPs, is reported to be a leading member of the "Notting Hill set": an influential group of relatively young Tory MPs close to the Prime Minister.

The Oxfordand Harvard-educated politician founded the Policy Exchange think-tank in 2002, having previously been a Westminster City councillor from 1998 to 2002, chairing the council's housing committee between 1999 and 2001.

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