Planning bill attacked in Commons

Planning bill currently going through parliament
Planning bill currently going through parliament

Local government minister John Healey found his planning bill coming under attack from all sides of the Commons yesterday.

Much of the debate focused on the new national policy statements, which will lay out the government's plans to develop what Mr Healey called "essential infrastructure development".

"They would help to ensure a national debate about, and conclusions on, the infrastructure that the country needs."

These would be used as the primary framework for the infrastructure planning commission's consideration of planning applications. This body came under criticism from Conservative spokesperson Jacqui Lait as "undemocratic" and Labour backbencher Clive Betts has also criticised its unaccountable nature.

Paul Truswell, whose Commons motion attacking the bill's proposals has attracted over 60 signatures from Labour backbenchers, said there was a "tremendous amount of concern" about the bill.

"Instinctively, any hon. member would want the house to play as big a role as possible and to have greater opportunity to hold the government to account, as well as ultimately to say through a vote whether it approves of a policy statement," he said.

"Those are incredibly important documents and we should not undervalue them."

Ms Lait said she was concerned by accountability issues, fearing legal challenges to government policy through judicial reviews if the statements are not being sufficiently scrutinised by parliament.

"If the British public do not feel that they own those statements-the planning policies that will affect their lives-we will find it more difficult, take a longer time and spend more money in the courts trying to establish the infrastructure that we all agree we desperately need," she added.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) has attacked the plans after a climate change amendment - which would have created a statutory requirement to consider climate change when approving major infrastructure projects - was defeated by 15 votes (with 24 Labour MPs rebelling).

FoE's Planning Campaigner, Hugh Ellis said: "With no reference to climate change in the planning bill, people have no guarantees that ministers will take climate change into account when considering major projects such as roads, airports and power stations which will lock us into the path towards climate change and environmental destruction.

"Government has recently made some bold statements about taking action on climate change. But yet again it has missed a vital chance to make those words a reality and create a cleaner, greener future for us all."


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