Page last updated at 21:54 GMT, Monday, 5 November 2012

Pickles pledges growth-boosting assault on red tape

The government will "remove excessive red tape" in a bid to boost economic growth, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.

Opening debate on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill at second reading on 5 November 2012, Mr Pickles said England's planning laws would become less bureaucratic, energy firms would find it easier to build new power stations, and faster internet connections would spread across rural England.

The legislation also sets out a scheme, announced by Chancellor George Osborne at the Conservative Party conference, for workers at small businesses to trade employment rights for shares in their companies.

"Only enemies of aspiration will oppose this modern embrace of co-operative values," Mr Pickles said.

But shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said the proposal was "absolutely astonishing", arguing that participation in the scheme would soon be compulsory for new employees at some firms even if it were voluntary for current ones.

"For the first time that I can recall, employers will be allowed to buy their way out of legislation that protects their workers," he said.

"What on earth is the connection between giving an employee shares, and taking away their fundamental rights in the workplace?"

He argued that changes to the planning system would not improve the economy while ministers persisted with their "failed economic policies".

The legislation also betrayed Mr Pickes's lack of trust in local politics, giving him "the ability to nationalise planning decisions in respect of as many authorities as he likes", the Labour frontbencher claimed.

"In no time at all he has gone from claiming to be the friend of localism, to taking a hammer and a sickle to local democratic decision-making," Mr Benn said.

"This is not a growth bill, it's not going to get the economy moving, it's not going to build infrastructure; it's a must-be-seen-to-be-doing-something bill," he concluded.

Under the legislation, some infrastructure projects would be referred to the secretary of state, rather than local planning authorities, to be determined within a 12 month timetable.

The bill would allow for planning obligations (section 106 agreements) relating to affordable housing to be renegotiated with the aim of making development economically viable again.

Section 106 agreements allow a local planning authority to enter into a legally-binding agreement or obligation with a land developer over a related issue, such as a requirement to build affordable social housing.

The bill also makes provision for a planned revaluation of business rates in England to be postponed.

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