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Debate wins ministerial sympathy

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Planning minister Keith Hill has expressed sympathy with the AJ's Save the Clause campaign during a special House of Commons adjournment debate on Tuesday.

The minister, responding to a speech by AJ supporter Alan Howarth MP, said he agreed that there was a strong case that 'cutting-edge design could be helped along by big private initiatives'.

And Hill also confirmed that there was still hope of a government U-turn.

'The final policy document will be published soon, ' he said. 'We cannot anticipate the outcome but we are nearing completion.'

Speaking in favour of retaining the PPG 7 clause, Howarth said the case for doing so was overwhelming.

'An AJ appeal to reprieve the country house exception has been signed by more than 300 distinguished architects, planners, academics, commentators and others, including the members for Suffolk Coastal, the City of Chester and the Hon Member for Chipping Barnet, ' he told Westminster Hall.

'The exception has been attacked on a number of fallacious grounds. It is alleged the countryside will be ruined by a proliferation of new country houses. The truth is that the history of our countryside is one of intervention, whether through enclosure, agricultural change, or the encroachment of industry and suburbia.

'Too often the altering of the character of the countryside has been an unhappy story, but the great landscape designers - Bridgeman, Kent, Brown, Repton - and the owners of estates have shaped landscapes that we regard as quintessentially English in their beauty and cherish as our heritage.

'I do very much hope, therefore, that my right honorable friends will reconsider their position on the country house exception. I know that my honorable friend the minister appreciates the importance of this issue and has been thinking carefully about it.

'I can see no good arguments for discontinuing the exception; on the contrary, I believe that it would be a tragedy if we were to bring to an end our great history of country house building, 'Howarth added.

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