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Planning revamp threatens future of conservation

PUBLISHED: 17:51 07 June 2007 | UPDATED: 14:33 07 September 2010

CONSERVATION areas such as Hampstead and Highgate will never be the same again if government planning proposals go ahead, according to residents groups. Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly MP has unveiled the Planning for a Sustainable Future

By Marc Mullen

CONSERVATION areas such as Hampstead and Highgate will never be the same again if government planning proposals go ahead, according to residents groups.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly MP has unveiled the Planning for a Sustainable Future white paper, which would overhaul the planning process.

One of the key strands of the paper is the proposal to slash the red tape which holds up planning decisions.

The Heath and Hampstead Society is preparing a detailed response to the changes, which it fears would spark unwanted development across the borough's conservation areas.

Gordon Maclean (pictured right), chairman of the town sub-committee of the society, said: "This relaxation of planning controls is very worrying. It certainly doesn't suggest that conservation policies should have any priority.

"We are still waiting to see the draft regulations which will set some of the proposals out in more detail, but unless they are completely different to what is said in the white paper I don't think they will give us much confidence.

"It seems to us that they could allay our fears at a stroke by saying it doesn't apply in conservation areas."

If the changes are adopted, planning permission will not be needed for minor developments, such as conservatories and small-scale extensions.

Green power generation devices like solar panels will also be permitted, as long as they have "little or no impact on neighbouring properties."

The aim is to speed up local planning decisions, which are "clogging up the system."

Michael Hammerson, environment spokesman for the Highgate Society, described the proposals as "The most urgent planning issue to have faced local communities in recent years.

Mr Hammerson urged society members to sign up to a campaign against the proposals set up by the Civic Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England, the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, Transport 2000 and the New Economics Foundation at www.planningdisaster.org.

There are 17 conservation areas in Camden, including Hampstead, Highgate, Primrose Hill and Belsize Park.

In Barnet, Hampstead Garden Suburb is a conservation area.

The areas are of architectural or historical importance and while future development is not barred, it must preserve or enhance the conservation area's appearance.

Camden Council's environment chief, councillor Mike Greene, said: "The paper does indicate that conservation areas could be excluded, but it is by no means clear and that could be a threat to conservation areas.

"Looking at ways to reduce bureaucracy has to be a good thing, but there are grave dangers that the cumulative effect of small changes can make a huge difference, especially to some of the conservation areas in Camden."

marc.mullen@hamhigh.co.uk

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