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Cameron wages war on planning red tape

Prime minister David Cameron has today set out plans to halve the time it takes to get major road and rail projects off the ground by cutting back the judicial review and public consultation processes.

Cameron said it was his government’s ambition to cut the time it takes to upgrade Britain’s roads “in half” by “dismantling” some of the procedures that have been slowing the industry down.

Cameron said he intended to cut back on judicial reviews, reduce government consultations, streamline European legislation and stop the gold-plating of legislation at home in a speech to the CBI annual conference. All of which would speed the time it takes to get projects built, he said.

“In the 1950s it took us 8 years to design and build the first 80km of the M1. Today it can take that long just to widen one section of a motorway,” he said. “So we are speeding things up,” he said. “It’s our ambition to cut the time it takes to upgrade our roads in half.”

“So we are determined to dismantle some of the procedures that have been slowing us down – and slowing you down,” he said.

Top of Cameron’s priority list was to cut back on the number of judicial reviews carried out each year.

“Back in 1998 there were four and a half thousand applications for review and that number almost tripled in a decade,” he said. “Of course some are well-founded – as we saw with the West Coast Main Line decision,” he acknowledged. “But let’s face it: so many are completely pointless. Last year, an application was around five times more likely to be refused than granted. We urgently needed to get a grip on this,” he said.

Cameron said the government was going to tackle this by reducing the time limit when people can bring cases, charge more for reviews – so people think twice about time-wasting, and cut the number times a scheme can be reviewed from four to two.

Cameron also said government departments would be told to cut the length of time allowed for government consultations.

“When we came to power there had to be a three month consultation on everything,” he said. “And I mean everything, no matter how big or small.

“So we are saying to Ministers: here’s a revolutionary idea – you decide how long a consultation period this actually needs. If you can get it done properly in a fortnight – great,” he said, citing the Department for Education that has already had a consultation “done and dusted” in two weeks.

“And we are going further, saying: if there is no need for a consultation, then don’t have one,” he added.

Cameron also said the hurdle that was “excessive” European legislation will be tackled via a new commitment to look at existing regulations as well as new ones coming in.

Cameron stressed that none of the changes outlined would mean much unless there was a change of culture in Whitehall too.

“Now let me be clear,” he said. “Over the past two and a half years I’ve worked with exceptional civil servants who are as creative and enterprising as any entrepreneur and they are as frustrated with a lot of this bureaucratic rubbish as I am.

“But the truth is, Whitehall has become too risk-averse; too willing to say ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’.” he said, adding that there were “understandable reasons” for that, such as lobby groups “lined up to criticise every action” and parliamentary select committees ready to “jump on every bump” in the road.

“The rational choice is to be cautious – even over-cautious, “he said. “But for the sake of our country’s progress we have got to cut through this.”

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