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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 29th March 2010.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 4:47 pm, 29th March 2010

I know that the hon. Gentleman is interested in local government, housing and planning, and I commend to him our recently published green paper on planning as it makes it clear that in the absence of a local plan, there will be a presumption in favour of sustainable development. I am confident that that will have the effect of getting the homes built that are so desperately needed. These substantial financial incentives, combined with national affordable housing programme grants to help to subsidise construction, and the introduction of local housing trusts, will deliver substantial amounts of affordable housing.

The objective of reforming the planning system has to be to make it fairer, faster and more efficient. That is as important for infrastructure as for any other form of development. The current Infrastructure Planning Commission does not meet those criteria, which is why we will improve the system by turning the IPC into a specialised infrastructure unit within the Planning Inspectorate. That will deliver real political accountability and ensure a smooth, efficient transition for infrastructure projects already in train. Without those changes, vital decisions that we need to enhance our country's infrastructure risk being bogged down in legal challenges-from judicial review in the High Court to the European Court of Justice.

We also propose national policy statements-debated here-which will speed up the planning system, while reducing the scope for legal challenges. These statements will avoid planning inquiries getting bogged down on issues of policy, and focus on specific planning considerations such as scale and location. For projects with national significance, crossing many local authorities, such as High Speed 2, we would use hybrid Bills in Parliament.

These reforms are vital to driving forward the pace of growth and infrastructure throughout our country. They will speed up the planning process to avoid planning inquiries taking years, and ensure that there are proper democratic checks and balances. The changes that we are proposing are the changes that will get our economy moving again. They are the changes that will kick start growth and development. They are the changes our country needs, and the sooner the country has the opportunity to vote for that change, the sooner we can get Britain working again.

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