The Tories will not let developers concrete over the Green Belt, Eric Pickles told delegates yesterday.
The Local Government Secretary’s promise came after David Cameron defended controversial plans to relax planning rules, urged on by experts close to the Conservatives who want developers to be allowed to build on the Green Belt unless specifically opposed in a local mini-referendum.
There are 106,000 hectares of Green Belt in the West, including between Bristol and Bath, Cheltenham and Gloucester, and in Dorset.
Mr Pickles used his keynote speech in Birmingham to say the coalition had introduced new protection for valuable green spaces.
“Now, there’s been a lot of press speculation in recent weeks on the Green Belt. Protecting the character of the countryside is stamped deep into the hearts of Conservatism.
“And I want to be absolutely clear – the Green Belt plays a vital role in stopping urban sprawl – and we will protect it.”
He also announced new powers for councils to clampdown on travellers who flout planning laws, such as by moving on over a bank holiday weekend.
“A small minority exploit Labour’s human rights and equality rules and have cost taxpayers millions of pounds.
“Such episodes give the whole travelling community a bad name and fuels community tensions.
“So I can announce today new powers for councils to literally stop those caravans in their tracks.
“New instant Stop Notices will allow councils to issue unlimited fines for those who ignore planning rules and defy the law.
“We will stand by those who play by the rules, and use the full force of the law against those who break them.”
The coalition has also announced moves to change the planning laws as part of its attempt to get Britain out of the double-dip recession.
Ministers will allow single-storey extensions, including conservatories, to be built without needing consent, and waive requirements on developers to include affordable homes.
The Prime Minister was asked if he was flexible on the proposals, and said: “No, I think it is good we want to get Britain building.
“I think that encouraging people who have always wanted to put on an extension, or add something to their house, I think it is a good idea.
“We all know what we need right now is people to people to want to invest in their house, get Britain building and employ local people.”