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Green campaigners attack new planning laws

Green campaigners have condemned ministers for “steamrollering” objections to major new schemes for nuclear power stations, airport runways, motorways, waste incinerators and even wind farms.

Friends of the Earth led green groups in attacking a White Paper unveiled by Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities, which will amount to the biggest shake-up of planning rules in a generation. It proposes replacing lengthy and costly public planning inquiries with an independent commission.

Streamlining the system will cut the time taken for schemes to gain approval from several years to a limit of nine months.

“This will enable the Government to steamroller through its decisions,” said an FoE spokesman, adding that public hearings such as the inquiry into a nuclear waste dump by Nirex will be a thing of the past.

Many critics said the White Paper was being introduced to make it easier for the Government to approve a new generation of nuclear power stations, which will be foreshadowed in an Energy White Paper on Wednesday by Alistair Darling, the Trade Secretary. He is also expected to propose more wind farms and other forms of renewable energy sources.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said it feared the White Paper will make it easier to develop major infrastructure projects, large supermarkets and housing estates on green field land. It will abolish the “needs test” for out-of-town retail developments which require developers to show there is a need for stores on the fringes of towns.

It will also be made easier for householders to get planning permission for small extensions such as lofts and wind turbines on their homes, but campaigners said they were a “smokescreen” to push through more controversial measures.

The changes presented green lobbyists with a dilemma because they support more use of renewable forms of energy, such as windpower. The changes will enable planning applications for wind farms or wave-power machines to be fast-tracked along with a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The Tories warned they would oppose the legislation, which could be included in the next Queen’s Speech – the first under Gordon Brown’s leadership – after a three-month consultation period. Public inquiries were being replaced by a “centralised, undemocratic, planning quango”, said the shadow Secretary for Communities, Caroline Spelman.

Ms Kelly defended the White Paper, saying the impact on high streets in town centres of large-scale retail developments would be taken into account. She insisted that people would have a say in major public schemes when they were announced, but their delays had to be reduced.

By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor

The Independent

independent.co.uk

22 May 2007