This localism bill will sacrifice our countryside to market forces

The government’s ‘sustainable’ new planning policy invites corruption and will sink us in urban sprawl, writes Simon Jenkins in the Guardian

With parliament in recess the government this week sneaked out the most astonishing change to the face of England in half a century. A “national planning policy framework” replaces all previous regulation and encourages building wherever the market takes it, crucially in the two-thirds of rural England outside national parks, green belts and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Farms, forests, hills, valleys, estuaries and coasts will be at the mercy of a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. The “default response” to any planning application is to be “yes”.
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The word sustainable should never appear in an act of parliament. It is a weasel word, an adjective not qualifying a noun but lightly dusting it with vague political approval. Sustainability is the sort of Blairism that gave us downsizing for sacking and humanitarian intervention for war. The only sustainable meadow is a meadow. Sustainable development is a contradiction in terms. It means development.

The localism bill now before parliament is a straight developers’ ramp. Drafted by the local government secretary, Eric Pickles, and the business secretary, Vince Cable, it stresses business and “national economic policy” over conservation at every turn. It is the outcome of intense lobbying by the construction industry. Pickles and Cable are mere purveyors of building plots to the capitalist classes. The words development and business occur in the bill 340 times, the word countryside just four.

The bill and addendum breach the core principle of planning, that the long-term use of land, the scarcest of resources, should take precedence over an owner’s right to profit. That is why there are no bungalows on the white cliffs of Dover and no wind farms on the Chilterns. It is why, when you look out over the Severn valley, you do not see Bristol merged with Gloucester.

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NHS services to be opened up to competition

More than £1bn of NHS services are to be opened to competition from private companies and charities, including wheelchair services for children, writes Randeep Ramesh in the Guardian

The government will open up more than £1bn of NHS services to competition from private companies and charities, the health secretary announced today, increasing fears that it will inevitably lead to the “privatisation of the health service”. In the first wave, beginning next April, eight NHS areas – including musculo-skeletal services for back pain, adult hearing services in the community, wheelchair services for children and primary care psychological therapies for adults – will be open for “competition on quality not price”.

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If successful, the policy, known as “any qualified provider”, would see non-NHS bodies allowed from 2013 to deliver more complicated clinical services in maternity and “home chemotherapy”. Admitting that the government’s initial plans for competition in the NHS were too ambitious – and stung by criticism by Steve Field, the senior doctor called in by David Cameron to review the government’s reforms, that the proposals were “unworkable”, Andrew Lansley has slowed down the roll-out of competition in the health service.

The health secretary said his plans would now “enable patients to choose [providers] … where this will lead to better care”. Critics, however, warned of “huge dangers lurking in the plans”. The trade union Unison said that “patients will be little more than consumers, as the NHS becomes a market-driven service, with profits first and patients second. And they could be left without the services they need as forward planning in the NHS becomes impossible.”

A spokesman for the British Medical Association questioned “the assumption that increasing competition will always mean improving choice. The ultimate consequence of market failure in the NHS is the closure of services, restricting the choice of patients who would have wished to use them.”

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