Motorways, airports, power stations and housing estates will be pushed on to communities under plans to fast-track new developments.
Campaigners attacked the Government for “bulldozing over democracy” with a blueprint to speed up major planning decisions.
They say the changes will mean noisy, polluting developments being dumped on people who will have less chance to object.
Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said yesterday existing laws, based on the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, were “not up to the task”.
The reforms also pave the way for small house extensions, conservatories and measures such as solar panels and wind turbines to go ahead without planning permission.
Routine applications for house extensions have rocketed since 1995 to almost 330,000 a year and can take three months to decide.
Under the new scheme, protests would have to be made within eight weeks instead of six months and an appeal fee would be charged.
But the biggest controversy in the planning overhaul is for a powerful new body, which will rule on projects such as power plants, motorways and airports. It will judge applications based on a Government statement setting out Britain’s key infrastructure needs.
Critics say it will weaken the power of residents and campaign groups to object to projects.
Hugh Ellis, of Friends of the Earth, said: “Today’s White Paper is bad for the environment, bad for communities and bad for democracy.
“It will give the green light to massive new developments while stripping away opportunities for communities or the wider public to input on decisions.
“It will destroy local communities and exacerbate climate change.”
The Government also wants to remove the “need test” which forces supermarkets to justify out-of-town stores. Opponents say it will undermine town centres and force more people to use their cars for shopping.
Ms Kelly told MPs the current system was “inaccessible and baffling” and “painfully slow”.
She added: “Our reforms will be good for the country, with better access to reliable transport, secure energy, clean water supplies and better local amenities.”
The Government claims the new system will replace eight different planning regimes and could save more than £1billion within 10 years.
But Greenpeace boss John Sauven said: “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.”
And CND boss Kate Hudson said: “It is laughable for Gordon Brown to be speaking of rebuilding public trust when this will place massive decisions in the hands of an unelected and commission.”
But business leaders backed the shake-up. CBI boss Richard Lambert said: “The current system is not working. Many developments are bogged down in red tape.”
Ministers want to relax planning laws to solve the growing housing crisis. The new system will see quicker decisions made on estates of affordable homes.
By Oonagh Blackman
22 May 2007
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