August 22, 2011; Source: Financial Times (subscription only) | The Conservative Party government of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has taken on two well-known British charities, the National Trust and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), over the issue of allowing private housing development in “greenbelt” areas.

The Tories have long supported the privatization of many parts of the British economy. The Financial Times now reports that Conservatives want to allow “sustainable development”—basically “community right-to-build” developments of up to 12 homes—in some greenbelt areas so long as the plans are supported by at least 90 percent of neighboring villagers. The National Trust and the CPRE view these proposals as opening the door to urban sprawl. CPRE said the government’s message of “build, build, build” was “crude.”

Greg Clark, a Minister of State in the Department of Communities and Local Government, told the FT that people who “sought to ‘preserve in aspic’ their towns were guilty of ‘nihilistic selfishness,’” because development would create homeownership opportunities that would otherwise be available to young home purchasers. Clark criticized the National Trust as “not serious” and said its claims were “risible.”

In the U.K. as in the U.S., two of the most prominent arguments used against restrictions on unfettered housing development are the need to create more opportunities for young homebuyers and the loss of jobs if housing development is slowed or stalled.

There is an entire foundation affinity group devoted to smart-growth policies designed to protect natural and historic properties and communities. This controversy looks like an opportunity for these smart-growth U.S. foundations to share their knowledge with their counterparts and the broader charitable sector in the U.K.—Rick Cohen