Bill survives Commons vote after key concessions given to pacify rebel MPs

The planning bill survived a threatened backbench rebellion yesterday after the government made key concessions to win over Labour MPs. The objectors' concerns centred on a proposal for an independent body to take over from ministers the right to rule on key infrastructure projects.

Sixty Labour backbenchers had earlier signed a motion warning that the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) would reduce accountability, which prompted the government to delay a debate on the bill while it built in several amendments to ward off a rebellion.

In the Commons vote yesterday, only 17 Labour MPs defied the government when a rebel amendment proposing to give ministers the final say on decisions by the IPC was rejected by 303 votes to 260. Another Labour rebel amendment to let people make oral representations to the commission was rejected by 306 votes to 262.

House of Commons

The rebels were won over by some key concessions that the government had incorporated into the bill, which aims to speed up the planning process on major infrastructure projects such as airports and nuclear power plants.

One amendment was that the IPC would be legally required to take into account a report of local community views produced by the local councils concerned. Second, if a developer applied for a compulsory purchase order then any affected partieswould have a right to force the IPC to hold a public hearing at which they must be heard.

The government described these as “sensible amendments that strengthen the new planning process while fully preserving the integrity and intentions of the bill”.

In a further concession, ministers would also be given a greater role in planning for nuclear power plants and airports by being able to set out in advance the locations where such developments are permitted, through national policy statements.

In addition, parliament's right of pre-appointment scrutiny was extended from the chair of the IPC to the deputy chairs, and select committees would be able to summon the chair to explain particular aspects of decisions.

The government also promised to undertake a “health check in relation to the role of ministers” in two years' time to ensure that the IPC is working as intended.

In anticipation of that review revealing any problems, the bill is to be amended in the Lords to provide a future option to extend the grounds on which ministers can intervene to remove decisions from the IPC.

In support of the bill's key aims, a government statement said: “Everyone knows that the current planning system for major infrastructure projects is fundamentally broken and needs to change. Decisions can take years, the public's voice isn't loud enough, and economic competitiveness suffers.”