Today’s front page of the Independent shows this government’s list of major projects that it would now like to push through. The paper are right that some of these will prove highly controversial, and some may be misjudged. The overall impression, however, is how few there are after a long decade of practically no expansions of capacity for rail, road, power generation or water supply. This government has invited in millions of new people, demanded major housebuilding and shop and factory building programmes from the private sector, yet has done nothing to expand the capacity of the main networks where it is the owner or the main instigator and regulator. The Independent’s map shows that the South east will still be very short of road and rail capacity, with nothing major planned.
Having wasted eleven years the government now claims to be in a hurry. That is why we face its horrible Planning Bill again this week, seeking to transfer the responsibility for major planning decisions to an unelected quango away from elected Ministers and Councillors. What we need is a government with foresight and powers of persuasion to allow the development of the new capacity we need on all our major networks – a government prepared to spend on compensation to homeowners where their amenity is adversely affected by new developments. Instead we have a government which wants to fight another battle against our right to a hearing and representation, as they seek to make the planning process even more remote from individuals affected by major projects. Far from speeding up planning decisions on these major projects, this Planning Bill is slowing them down, by taking yet another year out to have a constitutional battle over how to do it instead. Why can’t they just get on with it under the existing system? Why have they left it all so late? Why do we need yet another quango when we are already groaning under the number of planners and the complexity of the system? Why don’t they at least get rid of English regional planning at the same time, so we have a few major national projects decided nationally, and the rest settled by local government?