Michael Ankers, the chief executive of the Construction Products Association (CPA), has played down fears that the planning white paper will lead to a watering down of reform.
The publication of the white paper, which outlines the government’s response to the Barker review of land use planning, had been pencilled in for next week. However, Yvette Cooper, the planning minister, has now told officials that the document will not be published until after the council elections on 3 May.
The deadline later this month has partly been prompted by Tony Blair’s eagerness to see the paper published before he steps down. It would also be against parlimentary protocol to announce it in the weeks before the elections.
Ministers are understood to have pushed back publication because of concerns that it would stoke the anti-Labour backlash anticipated at the elections, when the government is expected to suffer heavy losses.
The depth of public opposition to relaxing curbs on building was underlined by a survey published last week by the Saint Consulting Group. This showed that 83% of the population does not want new development.
Another government worry is the threat of court action by Friends of the Earth, which says it will challenge any step to abolish ministerial scrutiny of large infrastructure projects, a key element of the paper.
Building has learned the white paper contains measures to:
- Replace the 13-week target for processing the largest developments with “planning delivery agreements” between applicants and local councils
- Speed up the handling of large infrastructure projects such as nuclear power stations and airports, by creating a national framework to determine where they should be located
- Establish an independent commission, to decide on large infrastructure projects
- Streamline the production of councils’ local development frameworks by abolishing the need to consult the public on the initial stage of the process.
A House Builders Association source said: “All the positive stuff, like the white paper, is being watered down and pushed back and the unhelpful stuff, like the home information packs, is rolling forward.”
However, Ankers said the chancellor’s longstanding concerns about planning problems gave him confidence that the reform process would stay on course, despite the delay. “The Treasury is really frustrated with the planning system,” he said.
Rhynd Smith, the policy director of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said the delay was sensible given that consultation had only just closed on Barker’s report.
He said: “It would be an incredibly tall order to get anything out before the end of the month. If the planning white paper is going to deliver an implementable review of the existing system, then there is no doubt that it requires thought.”
Search for more on the Barker review at www.building.co.uk/archive