Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert has warned that a proposed planning deregulation could lead to inappropriate developments that damage the character of the South Downs National Park.
The MP made his comments in a House of Commons debate on National Parks, called by Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston, part of whose constituency lies in the Dartmoor National Park.
The debate was called in response to a Government proposal to allow the conversion or up to three dwellings, or the replacement of existing farm buildings, without planning permission.
Mr Herbert warned that the proposals could lead to ‘the creation of a suburbia and inappropriate development - new haciendas and gin palaces - instead of maintaining the character of the parks and the landscape, which was precisely why they were created.’
A number of Conservative MPs, many representing constituencies that lie partly or wholly within national parks, spoke against the proposals. Concerns have also been raised by the South Downs Society and the Campaign for National Parks.
Responding to the debate, Planning Minister Nick Boles said: “I recognise that national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are so called for a reason and have a special status. It is a status we must respect, and it is important that we think hard and listen to the arguments put to us about the appropriateness of this measure in those areas. Although I cannot anticipate the Government’s final position... the Government have heard the arguments loud and clear.”
However, when the Minister then went on to suggest that planning guidance might instead be used to encourage the conversion of buildings, Mr Herbert raised a further concern.
He said: “If my Hon. Friend goes down the route of guidance, may I caution him against using the guidance to give national park authorities a nudge in the direction of saying that buildings should be converted, as he suggested? We should allow national park authorities to exercise their judgment on these matters and allow the Sandford principle to apply.
“That principle states quite clearly that, in the event of a conflict, conservation trumps economic development. These are often sensitive matters.
“In my constituency [in Greatham], a beautiful old barn is being considered for development. The national park authority is weighing that up carefully. A push in one direction would not be helpful and could be contrary to the principle on which the Park was set up.”