A new streamlined planning system promises to fast-track major energy, waste, water and transport infrastructure projects, including controversial developments such as wind farms, nuclear plants, airports and waste incinerators. The white paper also slashes red tape around smaller developments, such as mini-wind turbines or solar panels which will no longer require planning permission.

Other major changes include a single system replacing eight planning regimes, a national policy framework setting out the country’s key infrastructure needs for the next 10-25 years, and a commitment to town centre-focused regeneration.

Communities secretary Ruth Kelly said: “We must meet the challenges of low-carbon living, protect the vitality of our town centres and improve how we consult local people.

“We must also build the infrastructure we need to support our communities and ensure high quality jobs and international competitiveness.

“Nobody will agree with every planning decision but our reforms will make the system better focussed, fairer, faster and more accessible for all.”

The new system promises to put climate change at the centre of planning, but environmental groups expressed concerns about the ease with which airports will now be built.

“The Government wants to give the rubber stamp to the wrong projects. This White Paper is clearly intended to open the door to new nuclear power stations and airports, which will take the UK’s fight against climate change backwards,” said Greenpeace Director John Sauven.

“Given the urgency of the problem, this White Paper should have supported low carbon and renewable energy technologies that are of benefit to both local communities and the wider environment and could be generating clean energy in the near future.”

The wind power industry called for quicker changes and said the planning paper brings the UK “no nearer to the 2010 10% renewables target. While the changes should ease the planning roadblocks currently slowing down the development of wind power, it will only do so from 2009-10, said the British Wind Energy Association.

The BWEA’s Chris Tomlinson said: “We need a planning system that is fit for purpose during the next 3 critical years which determine whether the Government can meet its 2010 renewable energy target.

“Robust national planning policy is already in place and if it was simply implemented in a timely fashion, the wind industry could deliver the renewable energy target and set the UK on its way to realizing a sustainable energy future.”

Wednesday should see the publication of another controversial document, the Energy White Paper, which will notably address the issue of nuclear power. Its publication was delayed after the High Court ruled the Government consultation on a new generation of power stations “misleading” following a successful legal challenge from Greenpeace.

The full Planning White Paper can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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