Faster planning needed to aid business – Barker

The planning system needs speeding up to help British business compete on the global arena, Kate Barker said in her interim planning review report, prompting strong criticism from green groups.

Local opposition to major developments such as landfill sites or power plants and the “unnecessary complexity” of the system were causing delays, blocking investment and driving up house prices, she said.

The Government commissioned Kate Barker to review planning policy in December 2005, as it sought to adapt the system to the challenges of globalisation, climate change, population pressure, and the higher consumption levels of an increasingly affluent society.

Publishing her interim report on Tuesday, Kate Barker said: “The planning system contributes hugely to people’s quality of life and sustainable development. A world-class planning system has to deliver the right balance between multiple public policy objectives; it also needs to be flexible and deliver decisions efficiently and effectively.”

But environmental group Friends of the Earth said that implementing the suggestions would take power away from communities and harm the environment.

“This Treasury-commissioned report is an attack on the regulations that safeguard our towns, villages and countryside. While Kate Barker pays lip service to community involvement, her review lays the framework for business to ride roughshod over the interests of local people and their environment,” said FoE’s executive director Tony Juniper.

FoE also criticised the report for presenting “local community interests as a specific problem in making the system deliver for business.”

The report says that opposition from local interest groups may prevent development “at the expense of more diffuse interests.” It also quotes a survey that showed 80% of people would strongly oppose a landfill site in their area, while 77% would strongly oppose a power plant or utility.

Industry welcomed the report’s implications for major developments and investment. CBI Director-General, Richard Lambert, said: “A clear, fair and democratically-accountable planning framework is vital in creating sustainable communities on a small and crowded island.”

“Under the current regime big, complicated projects can be very difficult to get off the ground. Where there are major projects essential to the future of the UK, such as power stations and transport infrastructure, there must be a better balance between local interests and national need.”

The Town and Country Planning Association charity welcomed the report but called for further simplification of the planning system, which it said would aid small-scale renewable energy projects.

“Communities and businesses alike want simplicity and certainty from planning so the mention of alternative policy routes is welcome particularly if it means minor householder development can be removed from planning.

Kate Barker is expected to publish her final report before November.

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Goska Romanowicz

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