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Planning reforms draw record response

THE GOVERNMENT has been flooded with a record 13,000 plus responses to its consultation on proposed changes to the planning system, it emerged this week.

Civil servants are said to be buckling under the task of sorting through submissions to the consultation document sent out late last year. They are expected to produce a White Paper, in November.

The government wants major infrastructure projects in the national interest to be approved in principle by ministers.

Schemes would then be debated in parliament before being put through a streamlined public inquiry process under a strict timetable.

Expert advisers would be called on to assess technical submissions that usually eat up swathes of public inquiry time.

Parties submitting evidence would be penalised for failing to meet deadlines.

Environmental lobbyist Friends of the Earth this week branded the proposals 'undemocratic and highly destructive'.

The plans are a grave threat to the environment and local communities, warned the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

Backers of reform include the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE). But the RAE cautioned that major decisions should not be taken 'at the whim of the Secretary of State' only to be contested in the courts.

The RAE also questioned the scope of decisions to be made by parliament. If it approved a new trunk road, would the alignment be fixed, with 'only trivial adjustments to be considered by the public inquiry', it said The County Surveyors Society (CSS) gave overall support, but warned of conflicts between the government's desire for speed and for more effective community involvement. Further conflicts are likely between regional and local planning bodies. Issues of accountability will also need to be addressed where decisions are taken nationally or regionally, rather than locally, the CSS said.

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