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Institute questions Barker report ...
Institute questions Barker report

By Mark Smulian

Treasury free market zealots may try to impose business-friendly upheavals on council planners, the Royal Town Planning Institute fears.

It sees the Treasury's hand in parts of economist Kate Barker's interim report to chancellor Gordon Brown on links between planning policy and economic growth.

In her report, released last week, she criticises the planning system for being too slow to deliver decisions, though she does not advocate fundamental change.

But planners fear the Treasury will use her final report, due in the autumn, as an excuse to bias planning in favour of businesses' demands.

Ms Barker said she will look at how 'unnecessary delays and complexity in the planning system at all levels could be reduced'.

She held out the prospect of recommending financial incentives for councils to favour development, such as greater local retention of business rate increases arising from growth.

Planners are still settling down from the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which introduced regional spatial strategies and local development frameworks, and are against further dramatic change so soon after.

Institute secretary-general Robert Upton said: 'Kate Barker has said she does not see the need for a bonfire of the planning system, but the Treasury seems to want one.

'Hers is a pretty balanced document, but in the thickets of the text you find things written by the Treasury which are purely market-driven.'

Mr Upton said planners would be happy to discuss improvements, but added: 'There is not enough recognition of the extent to which the planning system is a democratic process which has to mediate between national and local interests, and economic and environmental priorities.'

Commenting on planning delays, Local Government Association chairman Lord Bruce-Lockhart (Con) said councils last year decided 80% of applications within the eight weeks target. But where central government intervenes they could wait up to two years for a decision, he added.

'It is central government that needs to speed up rather than local government,' he said.

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