Projects of ‘national benefit’ fast-tracked, from nuclear plants to windfarms

Planning permission for major projects from nuclear power stations and incinerators to wind farms will become quicker and easier to obtain, with less scope for objections from locals, under proposals made in the long-awaited Barker Review of planning.

Launched with the goal of addressing England’s housing crisis, the review shakes up the country’s planning laws and proposes building on greenbelt land around towns – a recommendation that has sparked protests from countryside campaigners and green groups.

A new independent Planning Commission would rule on major energy, transport, waste or water developments that are ‘of benefit to the nation,’ and is likely to pay much less attention to protests from local citizens calling for lengthy planning enquiries.

Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth said implementing proposals would have a “devastating effect on local democracy and the environment.”

“Barker’s vision of uncontrolled development will mean communities have little or no say in how their local area is developed. The Government must ensure that people have a say on the future of their communities and their environment,” said FoE Planning Advisor Hugh Ellis.

Responding to criticism over large projects being forced on local communities, Kate Barker said: “We know there is a fundamental difficulty. We know that we need to have things in the UK placed somewhere like large energy projects, waste projects.

“We know that these are the kind of developments that communities, at first sight, are not likely to welcome near them. Equally it is in the national interest that these are proposed and provided somewhere.”

“When it came to the cases that the independent Planning Commission would consider, they would consider whether this was the right place,” she said.

The idea of an independent Planning Commission was welcomed by the Chancellor Gordon Brown in his pre-budget report speech on Wednesday.

“We will now consult on the proposal that in future, while ministers set policy guidelines, strategic decisions on location and planning permission for major infrastructure projects will be made outside of day to day political control and instead by an independent planning body,” he said.

He also announced the designation of new brownfield sites that will bring the number of new homes built on ‘surplus’ land to 130,000.

The report was welcomed by business, with the CBI saying that “Kate Barker has identified many of the concerns long held by business.”

“Updating planning guidance on economic development for the first time in 14 years should also ensure the benefits of any development are taken into account more fully,” said CBI deputy director John Cridland.

“The findings echo the Eddington Report in suggesting that major infrastructure projects require special consideration, whilst not neglecting local concerns. If the UK is to meet future strategic energy and transport needs, plans for power stations and motorways cannot become bogged down in endless procedures and appeals.

The Barker Review can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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