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Thread: The planning bill - BBC article

  1. #1
    Feb 2007
    just back from a massive dog fight session

    The planning bill - BBC article

    Row thretaens planning shake up


    This week MPs vote on the Planning Bill, proposed legislation that ministers say will streamline decision on big projects like airports. But environment campaigners say will strip ordinary people of the right to object to major projects.

    The Planning Bill. The very phrase calls to mind grey suits, airless offices and interminable meetings.

    But, as one planning expert put it to me: "People find planning very dull - until it affects them".

    And when it does, the protestations can be loud and long.

    However, there was one public inquiry in particular that kicked off concerted criticism of the current planning process.

    Heathrow's Terminal 5 became the longest public inquiry in the history of the UK.

    'Major threat'

    It took four years, with 700 people giving evidence at a cost of 80 million to come up with the decision that the vast majority of people expected in the first place.

    The press criticism was scathing, and, at the same time as he announced Terminal 5 was going ahead, the then transport secretary, Stephen Byers, announced a review of the planning process, making it clear that the government was determined not to allow these protracted inquiries in future.

    For many people, particularly in the business community, the Terminal 5 inquiry was the final straw.

    They said a few vociferous campaigners could use the planning system to hold up economic development that could bring jobs and prosperity to thousands.

    "The current planning system has been a major threat to Britain's economic future for many years", says John Cridland, deputy director general of the employers' organisation the CBI.

    "We simply do not develop major projects with the seriousness those projects deserve.

    "At a time we're trying to ensure the lights stay on, next time we have a particularly cold winter, we have got to have a planning system which finds speedy and clear decisions about where infrastructure's going to be built. At present, it's hopeless."

    Squeezing democracy

    But despite the concerns, reform of the planning system itself has moved at a snail's pace.

    Last year, almost six years to the day from the original announcement by Stephen Byers, the Planning Bill was introduced, and it is now heading towards its final stages in the House of Commons.

    The bill proposes that the government should set out its vision for a variety of big build projects - airports, power stations, major roads, that sort of thing - in a series of what they are calling national policy statements.

    A coalition of environmental and conservation charities, representing more than five million members, say democracy will be squeezed out of the process.

    "The proposed developer will be the one carrying out the consultation - so that seems like a conflict of interest," says Marina Pacheco, from the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

    "There's an open floor session where local objectors can speak - but not cross-examine the witnesses - and objectors can put in written evidence. But it really limits the local accountability in the process".

    She says that there have been a bewildering number of changes to the planning system recently - so why have more before the current ones have bedded down?

    'Democracy deficit'

    But while the effect of this new legislation will be felt in the towns and countryside, it is at Westminster where the decisions will be taken - and some MPs are saying that the Planning Bill is becoming as contentious an issue as the 42-day terror legislation.

    More than 60 Labour MPs have signed a Commons motion calling the proposed powers of the new Infrastructure Planning Commission - an independent body which would take decisions on major infrastructure - "inordinate and unprecedented".

    Clive Betts, a member of the communities and local government select committee has real concerns about the commission.

    "The government are listening - they must also be listening to my colleagues - the number of people who are totally loyal to the government who have come to me saying 'This is totally wrong'," he says.

    "They can't understand where the government is on this - these massive infrastructure projects must be subject, in the end, to a decision by an elected politician. It might lose the vote conceivably, if it doesn't change."

    This debate crosses party lines. Conservative MP John Redwood, not usually known for being in alliance with environmental groups or backbench Labour politicians, is also against the "democracy deficit" he says is inherent in the new system.

    Ministers say they are listening to these concerns, and backbench Labour MPs and activists say the whips have been shocked by how close some of the votes were as the Bill has progressed through the Commons.

    The question is, with the prospect of another very close vote next week, has the government taken enough notice?
    Government riding roughshod over The General Public again in order to fellate big business, or are those pesky NIMBYs finally getting their just desserts for crossing the line of interference one too many times?

  2. #2
    Mar 2007
    the clue is in the name
    Government riding roughshod over The General Public again in order to fellate big business, or are those pesky NIMBYs finally getting their just desserts for crossing the line of interference one too many times?
    OK, I'll bite - I don't post very often so might as well go out on a limb....

    There is some political hay making going on, but one can see an argument for having a Nuclear Plant Approval Board - I mean Infrastructure Commission.

    In my short planning career I've already seen plenty of times local democracy has resulted in rejecting, or more rarely approving, development against planners recommendations and common sense. An infrastructure commission with appropriate expertise could prove more effective (sensible) in determining some applications.

    What bothers me though it that the planning process (I guess) still responds to the process rather than drives it. In the case of Heathrow and airports, read something like the Heathrow Retirement Plan from the TCPA. Now there are some clever clogs planners making sense. But no matter how right-minded the infrastruture commission will be, they will (I guess) only have the power to respond to applications - being constrained by existing policy.

    But, I think an infrastrucutre commission could be a good thing. I don't want a few NIMBYs with posh props nobbling their councilers into saying NO to something like a rail link or waste facility that could improve many lives, the environment and the economy. And the remit is limited to energy, transport, water, waste - so no fear of huge retail centres going through this route. (at least I don't recall seeing 'Tesco' as nationally critical infrastructure?)

    An argument against it would be that perhaps a long drawn out planning process dampers developments giving time for circumstances to evolve. You'd hate to see a big motorway pushed through to serve some new community or economic 'boom sector' only to see changes in, oh lets see, the price of fuel?, obviate the need for the infrastructure project. But of course that would never happen...

    As to democratic rights - our planning system is supposed to resopnd to policy and statute; not votes (though of course we love consultation and it's people power what drives the plans - right?) And anyway - there's lots more to the planning bill such as formalising the infrastructure levys. Never a dull moment on the policy front...


  3. #3
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
    Mar 1996
    Upstate New York
    Blog entries
    Moderator note:
    Moved from the former Planning in the UK forum.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  4. #4
    Nov 2010
    The problem is the public expect planning to be done scientifically with rigorous research and complete data, but it can’t be done that way because we’re dealing with the future and there are too many unknowns – yet the decisions still have to be made. Planning isn’t a science - it’s an art - the art of making decisions without complete knowledge – sort of like predicting the weather. Yes, mistakes will be made - you may get rained on when you don’t have an umbrella handy - but making a wrong decision occasionally is better than making no decisions as all.

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