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Planning: engineers need a say

Calls for engineers to be appointed to a national planning body for major infrastructure schemes were renewed this week as the long awaited Planning Bill received Royal Assent.

The government has promised to consult on how the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), established by the Planning Act, will operate. The government has also begun the process of recruiting a chairman for the IPC.

The Planning Act will allow major projects of "national importance" to pass through the planning process in less than a year. Parliament will draft National Policy Statements for the provision of vital infrastructure, and the independent IPC will decide which projects best fit the needs outlined in these statements.

"The introduction of National Policy Statements for infrastructure will speed up the delivery of major projects as the question of need will be established at the national level and not through lengthy planning inquiries," said ICE director general Tom Foulkes. "However, to be truly effective, it is important that the IPC has members able to make a realistic assessment of the UK’s infrastructure needs. "These must therefore include leading civil engineers."

NCE submitted a petition to 10 Downing Street last year, demanding engineers to be included on the IPC. A Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spokesman said IPC members would be recruited from a wide range of fields and "a wide variety of backgrounds". "[The chairman] will need a proven successful track record of experience in a decisive leadership role in a national public or private sector organisation," said the spokesman.

Meanwhile, doubts were raised about the merits of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), another initiative introduced in the Planning Act last week. This is a levy to be imposed on developers to fund infrastructure associated with their schemes.

"The basis of the CIL is still uncertain," said Buro Happold director of infrastructure discipline Andrew Comer. "There seem to be two options – it might be calculated on the basis of development value or determined on the basis of the infrastructure required to support development frameworks. "Both of these options have benefits in terms of application, but are both equally open to criticism due to the uncertain nature of their derivation," he said.

Comer also expressed concern about introducing such a levy at a time when the property market was in danger of collapse. Prior to the Planning Act becoming law, business lobby group the CBI backed the CIL as the "least worst" option for raising money to fund infrastructure associated with property developments.

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