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Crucial planning vote hangs in balance

MPs, and not independent experts, could have the final say on the construction of essential national infrastructure projects if backbench Labour MPs revolt in a crucial vote, to take place tonight.

In an amendment to the Planning Bill, Conservatives and rebel Labour MPs want parliament to have the final say for approving projects of national importance, such as new power stations, railways or roads.

"At a stroke this bill will abolish any pretence of democratic accountability," said Conservative shadow local government Secretary, Eric Pickles.

So far, 63 Labour MPs have indicated they will vote for the amendment, which places the vote on a knife-edge.

However, if the amendment is defeated, then final decisions will rest with the 'Infrastructure Planning Committee' (IPC) of engineers and other experts.

The Government has already delayed the vote by two weeks in an attempt to persuade rebel backbenchers to back the bill in its current form.

ICE director general Tom Foulkes said the IPC would be sufficiently flexible to allow more democratic input. "The IPC has the power to review consultations and investigate more – these points have not been overlooked," he said.

"With the bill in place, it will allow companies to do the long-term planning they need which at the moment is just not possible. How can companies justify building-up their capacity without certainty on whether or when projects will go ahead?"

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