Guardian on Growth and Infrastructure Bill
A measure contained in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill could allow planning applications to be taken straight to Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, if local authorities are making “unnecessarily slow decisions”.
The move could allow applications to bypass poorly-performing authorities.
Communities and Local Government minister Baroness Hanham insisted the Bill was “primarily a deregulatory measure in support of the Government’s decisive actions to put the country’s economy back on a stable footing and restore growth”.
But in a second reading debate on the Bill, which has already cleared the Commons, Labour accused the Government of weakening local councils.
Opposition spokesman Lord Adonis said ministers were contradicting their own policy of localism.
He argued that the “unifying theme” of the Bill was not growth “but weakening local government”.
“On the unsubstantiated claim that local authorities aren’t giving enough planning consents quickly enough it wrests power back to the centre – authorising ministers to suspend local planning authorities entirely for the first time since the modern planning system was established after the Second World War,” Lord Adonis said.
Lady Hanham said the Bill focused on reforms that would “boost Britain’s infrastructure, get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy and ensure the planning system operates effectively”.
She said a small number of councils were making “unnecessarily slow decisions” and others saw a high proportion of their decisions to refuse planning permission overturned at appeal.
Lady Hanham said this was likely to apply to only a small number of councils and ministers would be “delighted” if it was not necessary to “designate” any of them under the powers.
Liberal Democrat Lord Tope called it a “draconian measure” and said it seemed to assume that the “major inhibitor to growth is the planning system and local planning authorities generally”.
“There is absolutely no evidence to support that contention,” Lord Tope said. “If we are to legislate for such a draconian measure, we do need to have from Government the evidence that suggests this is necessary. I don’t believe that evidence is there.”
He said it appeared to put the speed of decision-making ahead of quality of decision-making and warned that designation must be a “last resort”.
Tory Baroness Eaton, a vice president of the Local Government Association, hit out at the legislation as a “step in the wrong direction”.
“It will not deliver its main objective of widespread economic growth but rather move us dangerously on a narrow winding path away from the golden road of localism down which to date we have made much progress,” she said.
She said the planning system was “not proving itself to be a barrier” and said 87 per cent of planning applications had been approved in 2011-12 and that some “jolly well deserved to be refused”.
In 2011-12 over a fifth of applications for major development took more than half a year to resolve, and 9 per cent took more than a year.