Major planning decisions in England should be taken out of the hands of politicians and given to a new national committee of planning experts, a government report has recommended.
The Barker Report says that politicians should set guidelines for building large infrastructure projects such as power stations, gas storage facilities and reservoirs, leaving it to an independent Planning Commission to decide on individual applications.
It also says that local authorities should be prepared to release green belt land for development where the alternative is to increase commuting which generates emissions and pollution.
And it makes a series of recommendations for speeding up planning decisions, including reducing the amount of paperwork required, processing appeals faster and halving the number of cases called in by ministers for review.
The report was written by Kate Barker, a member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, for the Treasury and the Department of Local Government.
Its aim was to investigate changes necessary to increase the supply of land for development and make the system more flexible in reacting to challenges such as global warming.
There have been repeated business complaints about the delays in the current planning system in winning approval for much needed developments such as power stations and ports. The government is also concerned about potential planning problems in building new nuclear power stations.
If the recommendations are adopted, ministers would draw up a series of statements of national strategic objectives covering transport, energy, water and waste developments.
At present, such developments are decided by ministers after public inquiries, but the intention would be to hand the decisions over to an independent commission. Experts in law, economics, engineering, environmental science and planning would sit on the commission, which would hold streamlined public inquiries to allow for consultation, but would accept the guidelines set by ministers.
The report also backs the government’s “town centre first” policy in relation to new commercial developments, with additional incentives to encourage the use of empty property and derelict land.
Ruth Kelly, Communities Secretary, said: “The Government welcomes Kate Barker’s report which we will take forward, and agrees with her overall analysis. We will set out in a White Paper in Spring 2007 our proposals in response to her recommendations for improving the speed, responsiveness and efficiency of land use planning, and for taking forward Kate Barker’s and Rod Eddington’s proposals for reform of major infrastructure planning.”