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. . . as government moves to revamp planning system


Planning minister Richard Caborn has paved the way for financial sticks and carrots to be introduced into the planning system in a more formal way, reinforcing the recent trend away from pure market considerations. He announced a raft of measures last week to modernise the system, which he says will end its 'culture of procrastination' and transform it into 'an advantage to society, not a negative'. The proposals were produced following a request from the prime minister for a review of the subject.

Caborn's statement urged a system enhanced with 'modern tools' such as economic instruments - defined as 'any financial incentive, tax, subsidy or tradeable permit which promotes a policy objective through the operation of the market'. Debate on this issue will be encouraged through commissioned research and seminars. On the face of it, this will take the principle of planning gain and extend it, while also making possible the introduction of taxes in relation to unwanted development. This week deputy prime minister John Prescott announced that a tax on housebuilding in green belt was under consideration.

In a briefing session on his policy statement, Caborn said the government wished to make more use of parliamentary processes by widening the scope of the Transport and Works Act to cover a wider range of projects of 'national significance'. Parliament would approve the broad principles of a project, leaving matters of detail to be discussed at shorter local inquiries.

Perhaps informed by the lengthy and costly inquiry into Heathrow's Terminal Five, there are plans to publish more explicit policy statements on 'projects of national importance such as airports or prisons, as well as criteria for site selection'. Secretaries of state would be empowered to set dates for inspectors' decisions.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England responded that the key test of the system should be quality of the outcomes - location, type and quality of new development - rather than speed of decision-making. It added that using the parliamentary process would further exclude the public from important decisions.

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