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Planning system under fire after farmer turns down £275m housing deal to protect countryside

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said farmers and landowners across the country were rejecting developers’ plans - and substantial amounts of cash - in order to protect the countryside
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The CLA said farmers should be able to choose what to do with their land
The CLA said farmers should be able to choose what to do with their land

Rural chiefs have attacked the country’s planning system after an arable farmer turned down a £275million offer by developers to sell his land for housing.


West Sussex farmer Robert Worsley rebuffed the offer by Mayfield Market Towns, who have proposed to build 10,000 homes, along with an academy, primary schools and shops across 485 hectares (1,200 acres).


Mr Worsley, who farms the 222 ha (550 ac) site in Twineham, near the South Downs and his neighbours, who have refused similar offers, have become the latest community to fight back against countryside housing plans.


The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said more and more farmers and landowners across the country were rejecting developers’ plans - and substantial amounts of cash - in order to protect the countryside for future generations.


CPRE senior rural affairs campaigner Graeme Willis said Mr Worsley should be commended for placing these considerations above financial incentives.


"It is invidious that so many landowners are put in this position by highly speculative land acquisition – especially where there is huge community opposition and no planning permission," said Mr Willis, adding the case illustrated ‘the failures of our planning system in encouraging aggressive, speculative development’.


"The current developer-led planning system has significantly increased the regularity and pressure of speculative development – which is both divisive and distressing for communities.


"In its place, we need a plan-led system where the focus is on land that people want to see developed – like the brownfield sites around the country that can provide the space for one million new homes."


CLA director of external affairs Shane Brennan echoed the comments, but said it was up to landowners to choose what to do with their land.


He added: "Development should be plan-led, balancing the needs of rural communities and making sure that the development that is needed goes in the right places."


‘I won’t back down to developers’ demands’ - Robert Worsley  

Arable farmer Robert Worsley, who bought the farm 15 years ago and grows wheat, barley, oats, oilseed rape, linseed and peas said his case highlighted the ‘hypocrisy’ in Britain’s planning system.


"The government tells us we have got localism, which means we have a say in planning issues. But in reality planning policy is dictated from on high, giving rise to the wealthy building lobby to come and drive a coach and horses through our land. And it is not local communities which benefit from these developments - it is the landowner and the developer," he said.


"It is an easy source of economic activity and growth to sacrifice land in the South East and get cash to bolster the economy. It is like or worse than selling off the gold reserves during the Labour government. It could cause irreversible damage because once the land has gone, it has gone."


Mr Worsley, whose land is one third permanent grassland under Entry Level Stewardship, said 'urban sprawl' was already affecting the South East and the area’s infrastructure was ‘saturated’.


"There is a difference between the words 'need' and 'demand' when you are talking about housing," he added.


"The answer is to regenerate areas in the North Midlands and the North East where they are crying out for developers’ money to rebuild communities where industries have been superseded."

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