Page last updated at 13:07 GMT, Thursday, 29 May 2008 14:07 UK

Revolt grows over planning bill

Stansted Airport
Decisions over airports could be taken by the commission

A Labour revolt is growing over a bill to take away ministers' and councils' planning powers on major projects like airports and nuclear power stations.

Sixty-three of the party's MPs have signed a Commons motion opposing plans to set up an independent commission to decide on major infrastructure.

Labour MP Clive Betts, who put forward the motion, said those involved would be "unelected" and "unaccountable".

But the government says the change will make the system quicker and cheaper.

'Very worrying'

The proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission is included in the Planning Bill, introduced last November, on which MPs are due to vote on 9 June.

It calls for a "new system for approving major infrastructure of national importance", such as roads and waste plants.

Mr Betts, a former Labour whip, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One he wanted the secretary of state for communities and local government to make the final decision over such projects.

He added: "I think it's really very worrying that matters such as a new nuclear power station, a new airport, a major new motorway, could all be eventually determined by an unaccountable, unelected commissioner, and not by a politician who is elected."

Another Labour MP, John Grogan, said the government was setting up a "cult of experts".

He added: "I just think it is ridiculous that for example under this new system ministers will still make decisions on normal planning permission.

"So, for example, if a local football team puts in a plan to redevelop their ground, it's turned down by the council and goes to appeal, that will end up on the secretary of state's desk.

"But an issue such as a new airport runway wouldn't necessarily do so, and there's no logic in that."

The Conservatives back the Labour rebels in opposing the setting up of the commission.

However, Local Government Minister John Healey said there was "often a misunderstanding " of the role of ministers in planning,.

He added: "These decisions aren't political; they are quasi-judicial."

Mr Healey said: "We do understand this concern and I've been discussing them for some time with MPs of all parties."

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