Government's controversial reforms spark criticism from green lobby but is welcomed by development bodies

The development industry has welcomed it while environmentalists have condemned it. The battle lines over the planning white paper were drawn up over the government’s controversial reform package today.

Faraz Baber
Faraz Baber: "The raft of announcements are a positive step to delivering an efficient planning system."

The planning white paper, which was unveiled yesterday, contains a host of measures for speeding up the development process. They range from the establishment of an independent commission to handle major projects, like power stations and airports, to scrapping the need to obtain planning consent for household improvements, like extensions.

Faraz Baber, director for planning and regeneration policy at the British Property Federation, said: "The raft of announcements are a positive step to delivering an efficient planning system and taking the difficult decisions that must be made on major developments.

“We welcome any move to speed up projects vital to the social or economic wellbeing of the country, which currently could take years to get consent for, never mind completion."

Home Builders Federation executive chairman Stewart Baseley said that the white paper’s proposals, if implemented, would give local authorities greater incentives to bring forward land for development. He said: "Better, stronger, faster. The Planning White Paper is not the six million dollar man but it should help give Britain the planning system it needs. “

Construction Confederation chief executive Stephen Ratcliffe said: “It would seem that the reforms are at least taking seriously industry concerns regarding major infrastructure decisions and town centre development. I hope that the proposals for a new national policy framework for key infrastructure needs, and independent commission heading a clearer enquiry system, will lead to a quicker and less adversarial system.”

RICS spokesman Damian Cleghorn said: “The Government are right to introduce a national policy framework so that decisions about large projects such as new roads, power stations and airports can be integrated into a wider, holistic development plan. This will help avoid the long delays that currently affect major infrastructure projects. An independent planning commission will accelerate the approval of national infrastructure projects which can only improve a slow and reactionary system.”

Mike Ratcliffe, chief executive of Wolsey Securities, highlighted moves in the white paper to cut the number of household applications that planners have to deal with. He said: “We welcome the new guidelines set out in the white paper, if they succeed in breaking down the sheer volume of work that besieges the current planning system. By removing the bulk of domestic applications, at least planning officials will be able to get to the more significant applications for much needed new homes.

But the white paper has been heavily criticised by environmental groups. Friends of the Earth's planning coordinator, Hugh Ellis said: "The Government wants to force controversial developments such as airport-expansions and road-widening schemes through the planning system by limiting local involvement in the decision-making. You won't be able to object to a new a nuclear power plant in your community, but you may be consulted on what colour gate it has.

"Government claims that today's White Paper will cut red tape and help them to tackle climate change are a misleading smokescreen. The UK has one of the most de-regulated planning systems in Western Europe. And expanding roads and airports will surely increase carbon dioxide emissions. Today's White Paper is bad for the environment, bad for local communities and bad for democracy."

Marina Pacheco, the Campaign to Protect Rural England's head of planning said: 'This Planning White Paper has the potential to radically change the character of the urban and rural environment by putting the needs of business first. There are plenty of words in it about the environment, climate change and quality of life, but we question whether they are being given enough weight in what is proposed here.