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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 15:49 GMT
Blears unveils planning shake-up
Plane at Heathrow
A new commission would rule on big schemes, like Heathrow's expansion
Plans to streamline the English planning system which would speed up decisions on big, national projects have been outlined by the government.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said it would mean a "faster and more efficient" planning system.

Ministers want to build 3m homes and support the principle of more nuclear power stations and airport expansion.

Opponents fear big projects will be forced through at the expense of the environment and local people's views.

Ministers say the Planning Reform Bill will help the UK meet needs for housing and infrastructure as well as environmental and energy supply challenges.

'Timely' decisions

It includes an independent planning commission to replace big planning inquiries and will streamline eight current planning regimes covering schemes like electricity generation, power lines, airports and reservoirs.

The aim is to deliver more "timely and predicable" decisions on important schemes, the government hopes it will mean decisions are made within a year.

The government proposals for reforming the planning system put the interests of big business ahead of local people and the environment
Tony Juniper
Friends of the Earth

And the reforms would allow people to install small-scale renewable power sources like solar panels and wind turbines without planning permission - as long as they do not affect their neighbours.

Building loft conversions and conservatories would also become easier and councils will have to include climate change in their thinking on local plans.

'Difficult judgments'

Ms Blears said quicker and "high-quality" decisions would help deliver the government's plans for housing, tackling climate change, energy security and transport projects - and would include greater community involvement.

"There will always be controversial projects that stir opinion and require difficult judgments to be made," she said.

"However having a stronger system will ensure all opinions - particularly those of the public - are heard sooner. Making good judgments in less time is of benefit to everyone."

The planning system has fallen into a state of disrepair and is now in need of a major overhaul
John Cridland

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England's policy director Neil Sinden said the reforms would undermine both environmental protection and community engagement.

Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper accused the government of putting "the interests of big business ahead of local people and the environment" while the RSPB's Simon Marsh said the bill was "weak on sustainability".

But business leaders said current rules were jeopardising Britain's future competitiveness, particularly on transport and energy projects.

CBI deputy director-general John Cridland said: "The planning system has fallen into a state of disrepair and is now in need of a major overhaul.

"If the UK is to meet its economic and environmental objectives, including developing new green energy sources, the planning bill needs to deliver a swift and efficient service, whilst giving all interested parties a fair hearing."

The Tories support reform of the planning system but say they opposed a "new central planning quango" and said the voice of local communities must be preserved.

The Lib Dems said there was a real risk that, in searching for faster decisions, residents' concerns about applications would get "bulldozed out of the way".

How the proposals could shorten the planning process

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