Gordon Brown is facing a Labour revolt over proposals to hand un-elected officials the final planning decision on major wind farms and other key projects.
Nine of the region’s Labour MPs have signed a Parliamentary motion, along with 54 colleagues, expressing alarm over the proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC).
Ministers insist the shake-up will make the planning process faster and cheaper, but the motion – signed by 106 MPs overall – warns it would give the independent IPC “inordinate and unprecedented” powers to push through developments against public opposition.
The changes would move final decisions on planning applications from major wind farms, motorways, airports and power stations in England and Wales to unelected officials and away from ministers accountable to Parliament.
The developments come after The Journal last year highlighted warnings from campaigners that communities in the North could be left without any “meaningful” say in the planning process because of the changes. But a rebel amendment expected to be debated when the Planning Bill returns to the Commons today would limit the IPC to making recommendations on matters of national strategic importance, with final decisions resting with the Secretary of State.
North Durham MP Kevan Jones, who signed the motion, said the planning system needed streamlining for major projects such as the next generation of power stations, with decisions currently taken at a “snail’s pace”. But he added: “I wouldn’t like to see those powers transferred to anyone who is not democratically accountable, which the Secretary of State is.” Other North East MPs who have signed the motion are David Clelland, Sharon Hodgson, Stephen Hepburn, Jim Cousins, Bill Etherington, Chris Mullin and David Anderson.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) warned the shake-up would be bad for the North East with decisions taken in London rather than in the region. Dominic Coupe, chairman of CPRE in Northumberland, said: “When parts of the North East are 350 miles away from the central location of this new quango, it is only naturally going to be true that decisions are less informed and sensitive to local needs.”
Planning minister John Healey indicated the Government remained open to further discussions on fine-tuning the Bill, but insisted the IPC would strengthen the involvement of Parliament in the planning process and give local people a greater say. He said Ministers currently make decisions on major planning proposals without reference to Parliament and judgments can only be challenged through the courts.
But the IPC would make decisions within national policy statements drawn up by ministers and scrutinised by Parliament and subject to wide public consultation. Commissioners would have to report to Parliament and give evidence to select committees.
by William Green
2 June 2008
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