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PLANNING WHITE PAPER - REACTION

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The white paper contains proposals which would, if put in practice, help make the planning system simpler, faster a...
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, said the Local Government Association. 'The government has talked the talk on deregulation and devolution, now it must show that it is willing to act,' said chair Lord Bruce-Lockhart.

'Councils will be pleased that it proposes a reduction in the volume of national policy guidance, fewer government appeals and an end to needless involvement by ministers in local issues which can and must be decided by democratically-elected councillors. We will be pressing the government to put these proposals in place speedily, with determination, and with a willingness to devolve further.'

Sewage plants and incinerator chimneys dumped in neighbourhoods, is contained in the 'small print' of the planning white paper, the Conservatives have warned.

Shadow local government secretary Caroline Spelman said:

'A week after pledging to give local residents a greater voice, Gordon Brown has shown his true control freak instincts by backing moves to strip local communities of their say over incinerators, rubbish dumps and sewage plants. Gordon Brown has sided with the large, bullying developer, rather than the people.

'Yes, the planning system needs reform - but the voice of local communities must be preserved and a democratic, accountable process must be maintained.'

Essex CC said the countryside had been left 'vulnerable'.

Cabinet member for environment, planning and assets, Peter Martin, said:

'We are still very concerned by the scale of the building programme counties like Essex are facing. Essex is expected to accommodate a huge amount of growth over the coming years and not once have any of our concerns been acknowledged.'

Council leader Lord Hanningfield complained that an unelected planning commission was not democratic. 'The government seems intent on enforcing central control. I will be leading the opposition to these proposals if and when they come before parliament. Allowing a group of unelected officials the power to decide on a second runway at Stansted is something I will simply sit back and acquiesce to.'

Phyllis Starkey, a Labour member of the communities select committee, insisted that any proposals had to take into account the views of local people and provide them with sufficient power to make a difference.

She told BBC Two's 'Daily Politics' programme: 'The government is certainly unhappy about the way the planning system works in relation to large infrastructure projects, but so are various other groups.

'Because these inquiries on nuclear power stations or whatever take so long at the moment, it casts a planning blight for a very long time over local areas. That is not to the advantage of local people either.'

She advised: 'The devil is going to be in the detail, but this could be a helpful development, not only for the national interest in getting large infrastructure projects decided, but also for local people in making sure that the opportunity to have their say when the facility is planned in their particular area.'

Dr Starkey concluded: '[That needs to be] effective as long as it needs to be for them to make their point, but that it is not endlessly dragged out giving uncertainty for a whole local area.'

The government is using the white paper to make it easier to push through planning decisions against peoples' wishes, says the Liberal Democrats.

Housing spokesman Dan Rogerson said:

'Superficially the white paper is about all the right things. It promises a greater say for local people in planning, it promises to protect the environment and it promises greater powers for communities to protect their high streets.

'However, the devil is in the detail. Ensuring a level playing field for our smaller shops is vital. Before we scrap the current planning protections for our high streets we need to ensure the Government has got it right with its new proposals.

'Labour also promised there would be no more Twyford Downs. The reality of the Government's proposals is that the only way local communities will be able to stop major infrastructure developments will be digging tunnels and climbing trees.

'The Government would like us to think they're concerned about consultation but these proposals are all about streamlining the planning process - making it easier to push through decisions they know people will object to.'

Any quango will bulldoze democracy, said South East County Leaders chairman and Oxfordshire CC leader Keith Mitchell.

'Government attempts to reform planning are no such thing. Far from improving the planning system, ministers seem determined to appoint their own un-elected quango to bulldoze their way through democracy. Rather than try to escape democratic scrutiny and accountability, they should work with local people and elected councillors, so that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past and instead create sustainable communities in which families will really want to live.'

Planning reforms must give cities a voice said the IPPR's Centre for Cities.

'The new independent planning commission should speed up the approvals process for major transport projects,' said director Dermot Finch. 'But it could also take planning powers away from elected city leaders. This risks undermining the government's devolution agenda.

'We'd like to see clear caps on the number and type of decisions the IPC will make - and regional experts on the panel. We need more efficient planning and greater local democracy.'

Communities

Policy & politics

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