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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
Planning shake-up unveiled
Stansted airport
Stansted airport: Planning process could have been speeded up
Proposed changes to the way decisions are taken on major projects such as airport runways and rail links have been announced by the government.

The measures should reduce unnecessary delays but safeguard public consultation and involvement, lLocal Government Secretary Stephen Byers pledged.

These big projects are essential for our economic future but they are also controversial

Stephen Byers
Only a handful of planning inquiries last more than a few months but some involving major projects can stretch over years, making them expensive for all the participants.

Recent examples have included Stansted Airport, Heathrow's fifth terminal, Manchester Airport's second runway and the east London river crossing.

Unveiling the proposals, Mr Byers said: "We need a modern and fair process for making decisions about big infrastructure projects such as new airports, runways and roads.

"These big projects are essential for our economic future but they are also controversial because they often affect the lives of people living near the planned project.

"The proposals I am announcing today streamline the procedures and reduce unnecessary delays whilst safeguarding and increasing public consultation and involvement."

Among the proposals are:

  • Up-to-date statements of government policy, which would normally have involved public consultation, to be in place before major projects are considered in the planning system.

  • An improved regional framework which will assist consideration of individual projects.

  • New parliamentary procedures to enable the local government secretary to put a project of national significance to parliament for debate and agreement on the broad principles ahead of a more detailed inquiry.

  • Improved public inquiry procedures, including strengthening inspectors' powers, stricter time-tabling and more clearly focused terms of reference.

    Proposals to abolish the right to cross-examine at public inquiries have been ruled out.

    But ways of streamlining the pre-construction phase and improving procurement techniques on major transport infrastructure projects are being looked at.

    These, it is hoped, could cut three to five years off the 10 years it now takes to start work on a road scheme.

    Stephen Byers
    Stephen Byers will report again in the autumn
    Procedures will be developed so parliament can give approval in principle to major infrastructure projects.

    At the same time, locals will be given the right to object before parliament debates the issues.

    Detailed aspects will be examined at a subsequent public inquiry if parliamentary approval is given.

    Public inquiries will be forced to introduce stricter time-tabling and more focused terms of reference.

    The compulsory purchase and compensation system will be improved so that it is more "efficient, effective and fair", Mr Byers said.

    A policy statement on the way forward is due in the autumn.

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