In its second report on the environmental effects of supermarket competition, the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select committee said it was “appalled” that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) took no evidence from planning experts and did not consult the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) before referring planning matters to the Competition Commission. The Committee added that “in failing to take account such expert evidence, [the OFT] has behaved irresponsibly.”

The committee has also accused the Competition Commission, the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) of not understanding the planning system and of seeking to relax planning standards after the publication of a forthcoming Competition Commission report.”

The MPs say relaxation of planning controls would be “disastrous”. They add: “A relaxation of the planning regime in respect of out-of-town sites would do little to encourage new entrants. It would run the risk of returning to the laissez-faire policies of before 1993, which did so much damage.”

The committee implies that any relaxation of planning standards could have repercussions for the Government. “The existing planning policy guidance on Town Centres and Retail Developments is widely supported,” the committee says. “We have rarely seen so much support for a Government Policy.”

Friends of the Earth has warned that the OFT is not the only Government agency which is in favour of the relaxation of planning restrictions. Other backers include key policy advisers in No 10 Downing Street, while the Prime Minister has taken clear steps to appease supermarkets fears on the matter. For instance, before the General Election, Lord Sainsbury arranged for Tony Blair to meet supermarket lobbyists. After the election Blair met representatives from Wal-Mart before the US giant took over Asda. Planning policy was discussed on both occasions.

Friends of the Earth welcomed the report, saying it was right to criticise those Government departments that support the relaxation of planning restrictions. “This is a hard-hitting report,” said Friends of the Earth Planning Campaigner Simon McRae. “It rightly slams the OFT, the Treasury and the DTI for kow-towing to the demands of the supermarkets and their lobbyists. But the report leaves Mr Blair and No10 out of the picture. But it’s clear that they belong in the same frame. We want Mr Blair to make it clear that planning policy guidance on out-of-town developments and restrictions on car parking will not be relaxed to suit the demands of the retail giants.”

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