By Ian Dunt Follow @IanDunt
A minister who branded two environmental charities left-wing has been publicly taken to task by their chief executives.
Local government minister Bob Neill insisted that the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) were campaigning against his plans to encourage councils to generally allow building developments as "a carefully choreographed smear campaign by left-wingers".
The charities did not take kindly to description, with Shaun Spiers, chief executive of CPRE saying Labour would find it "deeply amusing" to hear him described in such terms.
"It is a long time since I have been described as a left-winger," he said.
"The CPRE is the epitome of middle England and our members have made quite clear that they do not want us to pull our punches on this issue.
"These are people who could not conceivably be described as left-wingers. They are deeply committed to protecting the countryside and their concerns are genuine."
Peter Nixon, director of the National Trust, added: "Our primary concern is what the reforms threaten to do to the everyday places in and around cities, towns and villages that local communities love and cherish.
"The government is making warm noises about communities, but in practice the dice are heavily loaded to favour development and local people won’t get enough say."
In fact, Mr Neill faces real hostility to the plans from within his own party, with many Tory voters also angry at the idea that councils could be even less able to stop major development work in parts of towns popular with locals.
Shadow local government minister Barbara Keeley said: "Bob Neill's comments suggest ministers are losing the plot on planning. To accuse the National Trust and CPRE of organising a smear campaign demonstrates just how out of touch this Tory-led government has become.
"People have genuine concerns that changes to the planning laws may lead to inappropriate development and the loss of greenbelt and greenfield land."