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TIME is running out to save the Sussex countryside from sweeping reforms to the planning system which would give developers the go-ahead to build on unprotected greenfield sites across the county.

With this threat hanging over local communities, the National Trust is also warning that now is not the time for councils to be making cuts in their planning teams.

There is now just a fortnight left in which to sign a National Trust petition calling on the coalition Government to withdraw its proposed ‘National Planning Policy Framework’ and to put people - not profit - back at the heart of the planning system.

Members of the public can sign online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/planning or in person at National Trust properties such as Petworth, Nymans, Bateman’s and Uppark House and Garden. The petition will be handed to Government Ministers by October 17 when a public consultation on the reforms ends.

If adopted, this policy will pave the way for countless damaging development schemes in our countryside. Of course we need development and economic growth, but not at any price.

East and West Sussex are already under pressure for development and precious greenfield sites on the fringes of the South Downs National Park, for example, should not be up for grabs to every developer and volume house builder.

We are now in a race against time to stop these reforms and I urge everyone to make their voice heard.

More than 35,000 people across England have already pledged their support for the National Trust campaign. National and local concern about the impact of the planning reforms is growing daily.

Under the new proposals only councils with agreed local development plans will be able to refuse development on greenfield sites, yet research has shown just 47 per cent of local authorities have such plans.

In addition, alarming figures obtained by the National Trust under a Freedom of Information request show that planning departments in Sussex local authorities, such as Hastings Borough Council, Rother District Council and Mid Sussex District Council, are facing significant staff and budget cuts.

With councils not adequately prepared or resourced to deal with the reforms and a new default presumption in favour of development, local communities will be left at a huge disadvantage in the planning process.

As a priority, the National Trust wants the coalition Government to:

Abandon its principle of a default ‘yes’ to planning applications.

Strike a better balance between economic, social and environmental considerations in the planning system .

Retain the ‘brownfield first’ approach to development.

Ensure councils have local plans which are created by democratically elected and accountable representatives not businesses.

HILARY MCGRADY

National Trust director for Sussex

Kemble Drive, Swindon, Wilthsire