Azara Blog: The Barker Review of the planning system is published

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Date published: 2006/12/05

The BBC says:

England needs a new national planning body to have the final say on major infrastructure projects such as power stations, a report has said.

The Barker Review also calls on local authorities to allow more building in green belt boundaries in their areas.

The study also says that England's planning system must be made both quicker and more simple, and the appeals process needs speeding up.

Environment groups have already voiced their opposition to the report.

They fear it will lead to more construction on green belt land, and projects like airport extensions, motorways and new power stations being pushed through against local objections.

Yet critics of the current planning system, especially companies, have long said the creation of a new national planning body is vital.

They argue that, at present, some local councillors are ducking difficult planning decisions in the face of political pressures, such as strong local opposition to a new housing scheme.

The report's key author, economist Kate Barker, points out that contrary to public perception just under 13.5% of England is actually developed, while the green belt surrounding cities covers almost 13% of the country.

"The land that can be developed with the least likely environmental or wider social impact is low-value agricultural land with little landscape quality and limited public access," says the report.

"Regional and local planning bodies should review their green belt boundaries to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate."

Yet it adds that a windfall tax on profits from the development of greenfield sites should come into effect after 2008.

The Barker Report further calls for the planning system to resume presumption in favour, meaning that an application should be approved unless there is strong reasons against it.

And it says household applications for simple home extensions should be fast-track approved if there is no opposition from neighbours.

All incredibly sensible, which means much of it is likely to be ignored. As it happens, the green belt boundaries in Cambridge are already being moved outwards. For example, the NIAB site is about to be developed on the northwest boundary of the city, and that is a perfect example of "agricultural land with little landscape quality". And major infrastructure projects like power stations and airport expansion should not just be decided by some local council, they are far too important for that.

On the other hand, people should also be fully compensated if they suffer financial loss because of these kind of infrastructure projects, and that usually does not happen to an adequate level. (Unfortunately, on the other side of the coin, there are many people who benefit from such projects, mainly from increased house values. And because these people do not have to pay capital gains tax on their primary residence, the government cannot claw back any financial gain achieved, and that is equally bad.)

Of course the so-called environmentalists oppose this report, since they would not be able to hijack the planning process as effectively as they do now. Currently a huge amount of development money is wasted on lawyers instead of being spent on architects and engineers.

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