Planning reform rebels appeased by concessions

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown has conceded ground in his controversial proposals to reform the planning system in order to head off a major rebellion by Labour MPs today.

The Prime Minister offered seven concessions when he met Clive Betts, leader of the revolt, over his intention to transfer the final decision on major projects such as new nuclear power stations and airport runways from ministers to an unelected commission.

The proposals ran into a storm of protest from environmental groups and MPs, including 63 Labour backbenchers, as The Independent highlighted yesterday. Several Labour MPs, including Mr Betts, have been won over. The Government is confident of avoiding an embarrassing defeat.

Mr Brown promised that the Government will review the way the new infrastructure planning commission works in two years. If the review reveals problems, the Government will give ministers greater power to intervene and take over the decision on major appli- cations. The Prime Minister agreed that the location of nuclear power plants and airport extensions should be decided by the Government before the commission rules on whether they go ahead. Commons select committees will be able to monitor the commission's work, question its decisions and approve appointments.

The commission will have to consult local authorities on projects' impact, and those affected by compulsory purchase orders will have a right to a public hearing.

In an email to Labour MPs last night, Mr Betts said: "Important changes have been agreed. The two-year review agreed by the Prime Minister gives us the opportunity to revisit in the light of experience."

But Hugh Ellis, Friends of the Earth's planning campaigner, said: "This isn't a concession. It is a smokescreen to hide the reality that ministers want to sweep away people's democratic right to participate in the planning process."

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