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Government shelves planning bill vote

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The government has postponed a vote on its controversial legislation to fast-track planning decisions on major infrastructure projects (MIPs).

The Planning Bill is being debated in the House of Commons today. But votes on controversial elements relating to the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which will take over decisions on major projects from ministers under the government's proposals, have been delayed until next week when the bill recieves its third reading.

The delay follows an amendment to the bill by Labour backbench MP Clive Betts under which final decisions on MIPs like nuclear power stations and airports would remain with a minister.

Shadow Minister for Planning Jacqui Lait accused the government of buckling under pressure from its own backbenchers.

She said: "This is a clear sign that the government is panicking, trying to buy time to bully Labour rebels and even preparing to bury the bad news of any defeat. The creation of this new unelected and unaccountable central planning quango makes a mockery of Gordon Brown's promise of a 'new politics' and proves he has no interest in the views of local people."

Mr Betts said: “I am supportive of the Planning Bill. We do need a new way to deal with major projects that does not take five or 10 years. We need safeguards though. The most important of which is that the final decision rests with the secretary of state and not an unelected commissioner,” said Mr Betts, who thinks the planning commission should hear the evidence and then make a recommendation to the secretary of state who should then make the final decision.

Some 63 Labour MPs have indicated a willingness to rebel by signing Early Day Motion 606 , which echoes many of Mr Betts's arguments, put down by Paul Truswell MP.

After its third reading next Monday, the bill will move back to the House of Lords.

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