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By Mark Smulian...
By Mark Smulian

Powers over some planning issues will pass from Whitehall to councils once planners' performance improves, communities and local government secretary Ruth Kelly said today as she launched the planning white paper.

The promise came in a speech that also signalled that decisions on major infrastructure projects will pass from councils to an independent commission of experts.

Ms Kelly said she would support 'the fundamentals' of green belt policy, appearing to rule out the slackening of protection urged by the government's planning advisor Kate Barker last winter.

The 'needs test' - under which councils can decide whether more retail space is required - 'can sometimes by a blunt instrument', Ms Kelly said. She would 'require a better assessment of how developments will affect town centres', though stopped short of Ms Barker's recommendation to scrap the test.

'Development outside the town centre should not go ahead where it will impact detrimentally on the town centre,' she said.

Ms Kelly said she would strengthen the role of councils in planning, and would seek improved performance by planners.

'With this growing local expertise we aim to devolve further decision-making to local communities and reduce the number of cases called in by [government],' she said.

Local Government Association chair Lord Bruce-Lockhart (Con) said: 'The white paper contains proposals which would, if put in practice, help make the planning system simpler, faster and more responsive to the needs of local people and local economies.'

But he said the commission should be limited to projects of genuine national significance.

DCLG press release Major planning reforms for a sustainable future

White paper summary


Policy & politics

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