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Heavyweights clash over housing shortage plans

Environmental campaigners have reacted angrily after the planning minister and Kent MP Greg Clark attacked them for opposing reforms he says will solve housing shortages.

Mr Clark went on the offensive in an interview defending government plans for a wide-ranging shake-up of the planning system. He said opponents of the change were "nihilistic."

The changes will introduce a presumption in favour of sustainable development, prompting critics like the Council for The Protection of Rural England to say it will see developers targetting green field sites.

But in outspoken comments, Mr Clark who is MP for Tunbridge Wells, said: "Frankly you couldn’t change any element of national planning policy without the CPRE objecting to it; they have objected to every change in planning policy for as long as I can remember."

He went on to say that a failure to build more homes would be a "huge social injustice" and that the public recognised more needed to be done.

"People do have an interest in the future - to not care shows a degree of nihilistic selfishness which is quite rare."

Kent CPRE spokesman Jamie Weir said: "We do not want to put the county in aspic - we just want to make sure that development is appropriate, sustainable and done properly. If developers did not put up sites that were not appropriate, we would not object as vehemently and as often as we do."

"These comments do seem very defensive. He’s normally a measured politician and has worked closely with us in the past but they are not really appropriate for a minister."

Meanwhile, the Green party in Kent has also joined the criticism of the government’s plans.

Spokesman Stephen Dawe said: "If passed, these proposals will make it even harder to resist large-scale, unwanted planning proposals or to insist on quality building. Essentially, instead of having a planning system of laws and regulations fit for a modern, complex society, the government would prefer we have planning guidelines with loopholes to allow any form of development no matter how damaging."

The planning shake-up is a sensitive policy area for the government and particularly for the Conservatives, given that many core supporters are traditionally from rural areas.

Figures show that over the last decade in Kent, nearly 38,000 homes were built on previously-developed sites with 17,320 being built on green field sites.

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