Headlines: July 23rd, 2006

MPs will be alerted today to fears that deregulation of the planning system could mean large schemes being pushed through without the consent of local communities. At a special briefing they will be urged to protect the rights of individuals in the planning process.The briefing at the House of Commons will be hosted by Paul Truswell, the MP for Pudsey, and Friends of the Earth. It has been timed to take place ahead of the interim publication of a Treasury report into the impact of the planning system on businesses and the economy. A briefing paper, “The Community Voice in Planning: Does it count?”, sets out the case for involving members of the public in the planning process, with the launch of a new report, “Listen Up: Community Involvement in the Planning System”, which offers evidence from communities that have played an important role in influencing decisions.

MPs will also be shown a specially commissioned short film, “The Village That Wouldn’t Die”, about Doe Lea in the Derbyshire coalfield, where local people’s input into a controversial housing development helped revitalize the village.

Friends of the Earth is concerned that government emphasis on deregulating the system will mean that projects such as out-of-town retail developments and large power stations, could be pushed through without public consent. The organisation’s Planning Advisor Hugh Ellis said communities could make a valuable contribution to shaping developments and ensuring they worked for everyone but that role appeared to be under threat from pressure to speed up the planning process in response to business demands.

“MPs all know from their own experience in their constituencies how the planning system has to strike a delicate balance between different interests in society. What is crucial is that members of the public are not excluded from this mix but are allowed to influence the use of land in the communities where they live,” he said.

The new report, “Listen Up” highlights case studies demonstrating how planning decisions could be improved when the community was fully involved. It features the role of local people in dealing with applications for a landfill site in Skelmersdale, Dibden Bay port in Hampshire, housing expansion in South Hams, the Bath Southgate town-centre development, housing in Calderdale and a proposed Tesco store in Saffron Walden as well as the Doe Lea scheme. The report can be seen at http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/local/planning/index.html