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Planning Bill: Local views sidelined for big business
CONSULTATION ON a government white paper - Planning for a sustainable future - ended recently. The government claims that changes are needed to the planning system to speed up and streamline the planning process, particularly on major infrastructure projects.
Lindsay Currie, Coventry Socialist Party
The government says that the new planning processes will give conservationists and residents a better opportunity to voice their opposition. However, statements in the white paper make clear the real reasons for their changes.
The paper says that planning process delays can put at risk the country's economic well-being and investment, so jobs go overseas rather than waiting for the infrastructure to support efficient business goals. In support of this argument, they say it took seven years to reach a decision on Heathrow Terminal Five and that the airport company BAA had to lodge 37 different applications under seven different pieces of legislation.
The proposed new system will replace public inquiries, where the ultimate decision is taken by a minister, with an unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission.
As part of the new planning process, the government will issue national policy statements. It is likely to issue eight statements on nuclear power plants, nuclear waste disposal plants, airports, motorways, waste incinerators, wind plants, ports and reservoirs.
These statements will give the go-ahead for site-specific projects which are considered of 'national importance'. This will clearly limit the ability of local residents and other interested groups to object to the location of such large infrastructure developments.
Some plans for large developments are already well advanced and could be up and running as early as 2015 if the white paper becomes law next year.
The new system would allow for massive airport expansion including the third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow.
This will lead to a 70% increase in passengers by 2030 and more noise and pollution for the million residents that live under the Heathrow flight path. The proposed widening of 115 miles of the M1 between Luton and Leeds will also go ahead at an estimated cost of £5 billion.
The white paper claims that the new process will make it easier for communities to object to proposals. However, many groups oppose the changes.
They consider that opponents will be marginalised and ignored in order to meet the needs of big business.
Local people and communities will only be able to 'comment' on how the project is implemented and there will be no significant opportunity to debate the need for new developments or to have any say on where developments are sited.
The government argues that the new system will be more informal which will make it easier for people to make their objections to plans. But opponents counter that it could result in a 'twin-track' approach where scheme promoters and large environmental organisations will engage in consultation but individuals and communities will find it difficult to have their voices heard.
Many groups have already organised in opposition to proposed infrastructure developments. In Yorkshire, groups opposing the M1 widening have called on the government to consider other methods for reducing congestion but so far their demands have been ignored.
The new proposals will strip democratic accountability out of the planning system and make it easier for developers to get planning permission, while reducing the opportunity for communities to debate and oppose developments.
Again, the system is being changed further in favour of big business and capitalism while ignoring the effect on communities, individuals and the need to preserve countryside and greenbelt land.
In The Socialist 15 October 2008:
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