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New planning policy to spark more Heathrow-style protests

PROTESTS LIKE those seen at Heathrow airport last week will return with a vengeance if the government rides roughshod over local communities when fast-tracking key infrastructure schemes, transport experts warned this week.

Up to 2,000 people took part in the Camp for Climate Action on the proposed site of Heathrow Airport’s third runway last week.

The protest coincided with end of the consultation period on the government’s planning White Paper. Thus proposes that planning decisions on “nationally signifi cant” infrastructure schemes should be handed to a select group of experts (NCE 24 May).

The proposed Independent Infrastructure Planning Commission would be able to take a national view on the need for major projects, drastically cutting time to get from proposal stage to construction.

However, environmental transport lobby group Transport 2000’s director Stephen Joseph said projects could actually be subject to greater delays, facing legal challenges and direct action if the public perceives there has been little opportunity to debate the need for schemes.

“There’s no guarantee for people to be heard by the Commission,” said Joseph. “Residents might go along to a public inquiry [on a third Heathrow runway] and discuss what colour the gates should be or what the local air quality should be,” says Joseph.

“But they could fi nd themselves unable to debate whether there was a need for the runway to be built and their homes demolished.”

The White Paper, published by the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG), does promise that scheme promoters must consult with the public. But it fails to specify what form this consultation would take.

It also proposes to give the public the opportunity to air its views to the Commission in an “open fl oor” session. It is unclear at this stage whether the need for a scheme would be up for debate.

A DCLG spokesman said that there would always be some projects that went ahead despite local protest. “There’s always going to be a balance made [between the national need and the needs of the local community] and it will depend on the particular scheme the commission is looking at,” she said.

Former Highways Agency procurement director and Rowsell Wright director Steve Rowsell said he agreed with the proposed new planning framework in principle, but that Government had to make sure there was a route left open to discuss local issues.

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