The Women’s Institute is joining the fight against the Government’s controversial changes to planning rules and is calling on its 208,000 members to write to their MPs and organise public meetings.
Posted19 September 2011, by Christopher Hope, The Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group Ltd.), telegraph.co.uk
Ruth Bond, the chairman of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said there was a “groundswell” of concern among her members about the new National Planning Policy Framework, which includes a presumption in favour of ”sustainable development”.
The WI joins groups including the National Trust, the Countryside Alliance and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which fear that the new rules, that distil thousands of pages of planning rules into fewer than 60, will allow builders to develop green belt land. The Daily Telegraph is also running a Hands Off Our Land campaign urging ministers to reconsider.
However, a group of 22 businessmen claim in a letter to The Times newspaper today that the “creaking” planning system is driving investors away and threatening economic recovery.
The group, which includes Simon Wolfson, the chief executive of Next, Sir Stuart Rose, the former Marks & Spencer chairman, and Ron Dennis, the executive chairman of McLaren, claim that the Government “must tackle head–on the sluggish pace and disproportionate costs of planning”.
But the criticism from the non–political WI could cause nervousness in Downing Street. Mrs Bond said her advice to members was to “write to your MP, newspaper, where someone will listen, where it might make a difference, never give up”.
She added: “It is not a call to arms, but a call to the pen, a call to discussion and conversation around where you live.
“See what is happening in your area, whether they have got development plans in place, if not see what can be done about that.
“Don’t give up until you get the answer that you feel is what the country needs. It’s not the personal thing, it’s the whole community.
“Engage your community in conversation, do call a public meeting, raise the issue, because there will be lots of people in villages who don’t know anything about this.”
When Tony Blair was Prime Minister in 2000, he was slow hand–clapped and heckled during a meeting of 10,000 WI members in Wembley arena. The moment was later viewed by some as a turning point, when the relationship between the then popular Labour prime minister and ”middle” England turned sour.
Mrs Bond said she was considering writing to Greg Clark, the planning minister, about the changes, as well as ensuring that the WI contributes to the consultation on the changes, which ends in the middle of next month.
The WI is the largest voluntary women’s organisation in Britain with more than 208,000 members in 6,500 WI branches. “They have got to take more into account, more of people, environment, wildlife,” Mrs Bond said.
”It is a bit ‘here’s a new idea, let’s do this, it will help the economy’. OK, but you have got to think of other things – will it help the economy further down the line?”
The WI is concerned that too few councils had published development plans, which will offer more protection from builders being given a free hand.
In Hands Off Our Land