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Last Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Planning shake-up for big schemes
Heathrow Terminal Five
Projects like Heathrow Terminal Five are taking too long, ministers say
A shake-up in planning laws will speed up the process of getting permission to expand airports or build power stations and roads, the government has said.

"National planning statements" from ministers would set out the UK's key infrastructure needs for the future.

They would provide the "framework" for a new "independent" commission to take planning decisions on large projects, Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said.

But the Conservatives say it will "dump developments on local communities".

Ms Kelly said the Independent Planning Commission - proposed in the white paper published on Monday - would take into account the potential local impact of large projects, such as on air quality, noise and traffic problems


It would "bring together experts" like lawyers and planners to help decide policy and there would be "better public engagement at every step of the way", she added.

The government's long-term planning statements would "be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and intense public debate", Ms Kelly said.

Long-term "national planning statements" by ministers
Independent commission to replace large planning inquiries
Quicker home improvement applications and appeals
Planning permission not needed for small projects where no impact on neighbours
Policies to keep "vibrant" town centres
Developers legally obliged to consult public

Although planning is a devolved matter the white paper makes clear the large infrastructure elements are intended to be UK-wide.

Other changes planned include speeding up smaller applications in England - such as home extensions and conservatories.

Developers would also have a "legal duty" to consult the public, Ms Kelly said, and described the current system as "inaccessible and sometimes baffling".

She promised planning laws would continue to safeguard "vibrant town centres".


But shadow communities secretary Caroline Spelman blamed ministers for a "sclerotic" planning system, which had left communities feeling "more disempowered".

The government should abolish the "unelected and unaccountable" regional planning bodies, she demanded.

The current planning system for major applications does not work
W. Boucher, Cambridge

Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson Dan Rogerson said: "All the indications suggest the changes will help Labour's friends in the nuclear and supermarket industries, rather than giving local people a genuine say in planning."

Neil Sinden, policy director at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "The planning system is there to help us debate issues....

"Inquiries do take time. These issues are complex. We need to balance national and local issues."

There was a danger the proposed new system would "strip democratic accountability out of the planning system", he added.

Hugh Ellis, of Friends of the Earth, said: "The planning white paper will give the green light to massive new developments while stripping away opportunities for affected communities or the wider public to input on the decisions."

Dermot Finch, director of the Centre for Cities, added: "The new Independent Planning Commission should speed up the approvals process for major transport projects.

"But it could also take planning powers away from elected city leaders. This risks undermining the government's devolution agenda."

The white paper suggests minor projects like conservatories and home extensions should no longer need planning permission where there is little impact on neighbours.

The number of private applications has more than doubled since 1995 to almost 330,000 per year, and ministers say they are costly and cumbersome for homeowners.

A routine planning application can take up to three months to be decided and cost up to 1,000, they say. Yet nine out of 10 householder applications are finally agreed.

It is believed the changes could reduce the number of applications by up to 90,000 per year.

How the proposals could shorten the planning process

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