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Caution over NIMBYs urged

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The shadow local government minister has warned councils that they will not receive new planning freedom if they plan to use it as a NIMBY's charter.

Alistair Burt (Con) has warned that his party will have to "think again" about devolving planning responsibility to councils if they use it to say "no" to the housing so desperately required to meet demand.

He told a fringe session at the Tory conference: "If there is devolution, there needs to be a responsibility at a local level. Unless there are structures by which ministers step in, local politicians must take a decision Thats in the interests of the whole community. If people continue to say ïnoÍ to things, then it's not going to work.

"Our instinct is to go for a model of permissive local authority control and have as few areas as possible where it can be pulled into the centre. If it breaks down we'll have to think again."

He also appeared to express sympathy for the government's desire to speed up planning decisions on major infrastructure projects. The Tories had reacted with fury to proposals for an independent commission to rule on such proposals, taking away the power to reject them from councils.

"We've got to have a better system to make decisions like this," Mr Burt said. "We've said about [Heathrow Airport's] Terminal 5 - we can't get on with these crucial infrastructure decisions going through a planning process that takes up so much time.

"People should make their case, but in a much more truncated way."

In a noticeably different tone to Mr Burt, the shadow housing minister Grant Shapps criticised ministers' centrally set housing targets.

"When communities object, with genuine concerns, they simply bulldoze through the development anyway. When we protest, the housing minister calls us ïshocking NIMBYs'," he said in his conference speech.

Mr Shapps pledged to scrap the government's targets for the density of housing which "force people to live on top of one another", and he promised to change planning rules so gardens were not characterised as brownfield and were therefore harder to develop.

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