Green groups greet planning bill
The governments planning bill has been published, receiving criticism from environmentalists and citizen's rights groups. According to communities secretary, Hazel Blears, the bill is designed to reform the planning system for major infrastructure projects, such as motorway extensions, new power stations and airport expansion.
She said: "Through quicker and high-quality decisions our planning bill will help deliver on the government's long-term vision for Britain in relation to housing, climate change, energy security, transport provision, and prosperity and quality of life for all.
"The new measures show that it is possible to deliver not only a faster and more efficient planning system, but high-quality decisions with greater community involvement."
But campaigners, including Friends of the Earth fear that the bill will be used to push through major projects despite public opposition, regardless of environmental concerns or climate change, and say the government is giving mixed messages.
"Gordon Brown's plans for tackling climate change are confusing and deeply worrying. Last week he talked about making Britain a world leader in developing a low-carbon economy. But allowing airports, for example, to expand will seriously threaten our targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions", said Tony Juniper, director of FOE.
"The government proposals for reforming the planning system put the interests of big business ahead of local people and the environment. Controversial projects such as airports, incinerators and roads will be fast tracked through the planning process. Ministers must ensure proper scrutiny of major development proposals, and allow local communities to participate in the decisions."
The RSPB warns that if the planning bill is not strengthened, developers will be allowed to gloss over environmental concerns. Under the bill, an independent commission will make decisions on applications for large-scale projects. The RSPB is calling on the government to give the commission a legal duty to promote sustainable development.
"Without it, the commission could ignore the environmental harm of large developments whether it's the loss of natural habitats or soaring carbon emissions," said Simon Marsh for the RSPB.
There is one brighter note to the planning reforms - theoretically the bill would streamline the local planning system - cutting red tape for local householders and tackling climate change by making it easier for homeowners to carry out small scale extensions to their homes and install solar panels and wind turbines without planning permission.
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