Environmental groups are campaigning against planning laws they claim will lead to “faceless bureaucrats” taking decisions on major projects.
Opponents of the government’s Planning Bill say it sweeps away local accountability for developments such as motorways and airports.
Instead, they want people to have more say on the decisions that affect them.
The government says planning laws need reform to meet long-term challenges, such as those posed by climate change.
The bill, currently going through Parliament, aims to replace the current system of holding a sometimes lengthy and expensive public inquiry each time a major infrastructure project is proposed, such as an airport or a power station.
Instead there will be a series of National Policy Statements from the government, setting out the case for what ministers call “nationally significant infrastructure”.
The statements would be used as a guide by an independent, but unelected, Planning Commission, which will decide in future where these proposed developments will go.
People living near the proposed projects would have limited opportunities to object.
The government argues that the reform is needed to ensure the planning system can “meet the long-term challenges we face as a society.”
It says the need to tackle climate change, by building eco-friendly homes or power stations, means that the planning process needs to be speeded up.
But the Planning Disaster Coalition, which include Friends of the Earth, the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England says the change will make a “mockery” of democracy, by taking away the rights of people to have their say on developments in their local area.
The Coalition has produced a map highlighting the location of over 100 new developments – including nuclear power stations, airports and wind farms – that it says could be forced through if the government gets its way over changes to the planning system.
Opposition to the Bill is also growing within Parliament.
In May, 63 Labour MPs signed a motion opposing plans to set up an independent commission to decide on major infrastructure.
The motion’s sponsor, Labour MP Clive Betts, said he found it “worrying” that controversial projects like nuclear power stations and motorways could be decided upon by an “unaccountable, unelected commissioner”.
9 June 2008
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