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Planning bill vote fears

Planning legislation could be delayed if Lords drag feet over 'undemocratic' plan to green light major projects.

Government efforts to set up an independent Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) to decide which nationally important infrastructure projects should be built faced months of delay this week.

Disagreements have emerged about whether such a body, to be established under the Planning Bill, would be democratic.

Under proposals in the Bill, the IPC would fast track the planning process for projects considered to be of national importance.

A Commons amendment allowing MPs rather than the IPC to have the final say on new infrastructure projects was defeated last week by 303 votes to 260.

But opponents of the Bill form predicted that it could now be delayed for months while the House of Lords tries to force through similar amendments.

It had been hoped that the Bill could be enacted before the parliamentary recess on 23 July. But hopes that the legislation will go through by then are fading fast.

This is because the Lords are likely to try to push through new amendments proposing that MPs have the final say and that National Policy Statements supporting infrastructure projects should be subject to a vote in parliament.

"I would be amazed if certain amendments from the Lords do not come back to the Commons," said Labour MP John Grogan who voted for the amendment.

"We could be playing ping-pong for some time as Bill goes between the Commons and the Lords."

Town & Country Planning Association Policy and projects manager Graham Nickson added: "It depends on the weight of other business but it may get delayed which could be quite serious.

"The Bill is not due to be debated in the Lords until 15 July and committee stage is unlikely to happen before the second week in October when Parliament returns from its summer recess.

"This means that there is a danger that the legislation may not go through all its Lords stages and be returned to the Commons before the session ends in November."

The proposed IPC will have 20 to 30 members appointed by Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). DCLG officials have previously assured NCE that these would include civil engineers (NCE 28 November 2007).

ICE welcomed the defeating of the amendment on the IPC and claimed the Commission was already democratic in its current form.

"The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) welcomes the passage of the Planning Bill through the House of Commons," said ICE director general Tom Foulkes.

"It is obviously important that there continues to be a democratic input in planning decisions and we believe the Bill provides adequately for this. The IPC will make decisions in line with National Infrastructure Policy Statements which will be owned by ministers, accountable to Parliament, and will have widespread consultation. It will ensure that the decision making process is transparent, in line with democratically agreed accountable strategy."

Projects for the IPC
- High speed rail network
- Nuclear power stations
- Roads, public transport, power, water and sewerage to support construction of 3M new homes in the south east by 2020.
- Extension of the National Grid to accommodate renewable energy infrastructure
- Severn barrage
- Runways for Heathrow and Stansted airports

Click here for a map of: Planning Bill - Where infrastructure could be built

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