IPC to be abolished as new system is outlined

Decentralisation minster Greg Clark today laid out plans to abolish the fledgling Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with a system where ministers make the final decisions on key projects.

Clark said that he would set up a major infrastructure planning unit within the planning inspectorate to process infrastructure applications to the same tight timetable as under the current system. However, ministers will be given the final say-so on each application.

The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) has been in place for just nine months and is due to receive its first applications next month. It is believed most of the staff will now move over to the planning inspectorate.

In addition to those changes, Clark said that parliament would be given a vote on all national policy statements – which set out the framework under which decisions on individual applications will be taken.

Clark said: “New infrastructure is critical to the country’s return to economic growth and we believe we must have a fast track system for major projects - but it must be accountable. The previous system lacked any democratic legitimacy by giving decision making power away to a distant quango on issues crucial to every community in the country.

Charles Hendry, energy minister, said: “A fast and efficient planning system is critical for facilitating investment in much needed new energy infrastructure. By abolishing the IPC we will ensure that vital energy planning decisions are democratically accountable.”

Neil Bentley, director of business environment at the CBI, said the organisation would judge coalition government ministers on their ability to deliver decisions swiftly. “Investors and companies need certainty from the planning system to invest with confidence in the UK. If this is not achieved the economy will be undermined by crumbling infrastructure,” he said.

Matt Thomson, head of policy at the Royal Town Planning Institute said: “We welcome the government’s clarification that the function of the IPC is to be retained even if the body itself is not. We believe that people’s confidence in the system will be strengthened by the commitment that final decisions on major infrastructure projects will be taken by the secretary of state within a defined timeframe.”

However, former housing and planning minister John Healey hit out at the changes, saying they were a waste of money. He said: “The government is over-hyping this announcement. Ninety per cent of the national planning system has been retained, including national policy statements, the special consultation programme and parliamentary scrutiny. What they have done is move the commission’s officials and expertise from one quango to another, at huge administrative cost.”

“Nor is it clear from the statement that ministers will be the ones now taking planning decisions. If they will be, this adds another stage and yet more delay to the planning process.”