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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 15:14 GMT
England planning overhaul urged
New homes being built
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England needs a new national planning body to have the final say on major infrastructure projects such as power stations, a report has said.

The Barker Review also calls on local authorities to allow more building in green belt boundaries in their areas.

The study also says that England's planning system must be made both quicker and more simple, and the appeals process needs speeding up.

Environment groups have already voiced their opposition to the report.

They fear it will lead to more construction on green belt land, and projects like airport extensions, motorways and new power stations being pushed through against local objections.

'Least impact'
Planning bodies should review their green belt boundaries to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate
Barker Report

Yet critics of the current planning system, especially companies, have long said the creation of a new national planning body is vital.

They argue that, at present, some local councillors are ducking difficult planning decisions in the face of political pressures, such as strong local opposition to a new housing scheme.

The report's key author, economist Kate Barker, points out that contrary to public perception just under 13.5% of England is actually developed, while the green belt surrounding cities covers almost 13% of the country.

Graph: Population density for selected European cities

"The land that can be developed with the least likely environmental or wider social impact is low-value agricultural land with little landscape quality and limited public access," says the report.

"Regional and local planning bodies should review their green belt boundaries to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate."

Yet it adds that a windfall tax on profits from the development of greenfield sites should come into effect after 2008.

The laws need to be revised, not necessarily relaxed
Martin, Salisbury

The Barker Report further calls for the planning system to resume presumption in favour, meaning that an application should be approved unless there is strong reasons against it.

And it says household applications for simple home extensions should be fast-track approved if there is no opposition from neighbours.

'Devastating impact'

Friends of the Earth has said that if the report's proposals are implemented, it will have "a devastating impact on the environment and local democracy".

The government has committed to a new White Paper on planning in March that is expected to incorporate some of the Barker Review's recommendations.

Manufacturers' organisation EEF welcomed the Barker Review.

"This report lays down the gauntlet for a major overhaul of a planning system so that it meet the needs of a modern economy and supports economic growth," said EEF director general Martin Temple.

"Government should move to implement its recommendations as a matter of urgency."

The CBI also backed the report, saying business had been "badly hampered by the slowness and uncertainty of the current process".

Kate Barker is a member of the Bank of England's interest rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee. The report was commissioned by the Treasury.

Project Years taken Length of pub. enquiry Total time* [years]
M6 toll road 1992-97 16 months 7
Heathrow Terminal 5 1993-2001 46 months 7.1
London International Freight exchange 1999-2002 7 months 3.4
Upgrade of West Coast mainline 2000-2003 11 months 3
Camden Town tube rebuilding 2003-2005 5 months 2.25
* - Includes time taken for application, inquiry, delivery of report and decision. Source: DFT/PINS/Barker Report

Some of the green belt land which could be affected

Q&A: English planning law review
05 Dec 06 |  Business
Better homes pledged in shake-up
29 Nov 06 |  UK Politics
How can we protect the green belt?
05 Aug 05 |  Have Your Say
At-a-glance: Housing plans
24 Jan 05 |  UK Politics

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