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Fears for accountability in 'local choice' planning

Government proposals are afoot to wrench powers from planning committees in favour of a ruling elite of councillors who may be secretive and non- accountable, experts warned this week.

Labour's White Paper, 'Local Leadership, Local Choice', covers all areas of local government and proposes one of three methods of council leadership: a directly elected mayor and cabinet; a cabinet with a leader; and an elected mayor with a council manager. The leadership will be responsible for all council affairs including planning.

These proposals would strip planning committee members of a say in formulating borough policy, said both Wandsworth council and the Royal Town Planning Institute. These new-style 'cabinets', comprising a handful of senior councillors, would draw up major strategies like udps.

Wandsworth Council said: 'The government is saying that councillors who take the day-to-day planning decisions should be excluded from the cabinet. High-flying chairmen will be screened off from back-bench councillors. You will have the situation where the planning chairman has no say. This is a complete breakdown and leaves scope for wrong decisions, endless appeals and uncertainty among applicants and developers.'

rtpi president Brian Raggett said that the new structures would hive off plan- and policy-making from development control. 'Plan-making is collaborative and needs to be as open as possible and as accessible as possible to the community and its elected representatives.' Plan-making and development control had to be fully integrated, he said.

The detr argued: 'You will have more people in the decision process this way. We want to cut down time spent sitting in council committees. They will be talking with local people and businesses rather than listening to sterile discussions in a meeting room.'

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