The Government should not resort to a "quick-fix" solution to the economic downturn by rolling back planning restrictions while using the current crisis as a "smokescreen", the National Trust has warned.
Changes to planning laws that result in short-term "free-for-alls" will be regretted further down the line, director-general of the charity Dame Fiona Reynolds argued. She also disputed that relaxing red tape would necessarily stimulate the economy in any case.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, she asked: "Can it be a coincidence that the nations in the deepest economic trouble - Greece, Italy, Ireland - all share a reputation for lax planning regimes?
"The empty homes that blight the Irish countryside stand as icons of a discredited approach to growth and development, which ignores the needs of people and places in the pursuit of short-term profit."
Campaigners fear the Government's new national planning policy framework (NPPF) - which would introduce a "presumption in favour of sustainable development" - weakens the protection of the green belt and could lead to more urban sprawl and increased numbers of car journeys.
Dame Fiona wrote: "As politicians desperately search for escape routes out of the current economic crisis, the lure of the quick fix becomes ever more attractive than the need for sustainable long-term solutions. This threatens long-held achievements, such as the protection of our countryside."
She accepted that the planning system did need to become more streamlined and efficient in the way it operates and more inclusive of local wishes and opinions. She also agreed that the economy had to grow and that new homes and jobs were needed "as a matter of urgency".
However she went on: "We need to build these homes - and the community and environmental infrastructure they depend on - in a new way, in places that offer a more sustainable future and in which we want to live. The NPPF as drafted does not deliver this, but presents the vision of a return to the bad old days of planning by appeal and soulless out-of-town developments."
Dame Fiona is due to meet with the Prime Minister at Downing Street on Tuesday to discuss the controversial planning reforms.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "We are determined to deliver a simpler planning system which makes absolutely clear the Government's intention to provide the homes and jobs that the next generation needs while protecting our countryside. The planning system has always enshrined the principle that the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development should be considered in a balanced way - and it will continue to do so."
© 2011 Press Association