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Tories 'could privatise planning system'

A Conservative government could radically reduce local councils' control of the planning system, placing most of the process in the hands of private bodies, Tory peer Lord Heseltine has said.

Heseltine, head of the Conservatives' Cities Taskforce, told the AJ's stablemate Local Government Chroniclethat he wanted to make these changes to cut constraints on developers.

The former deputy prime minister said council planning officers would be left presiding over only the most contentious proposals. This would mean hundreds could face uncertainty over their jobs.

'The local authority would have default powers to intervene if it strongly objected,' Heseltine said.

'[However] you would not have to go through the process of getting permission for every last nut and bolt.

'You would get a decision and a broad indication very rapidly.

'That's the reverse of what actually happens in the public sector, where you go up from the base of a pyramid starting with relatively junior, relatively inexperienced people with no confidence, who take the ultimate caution.'

Heseltine proposes that developers and chartered surveyors should be licensed to take planning decisions, and that if they made bad decisions local communities could lobby for them to lose their licences.

But his views have been slammed by critics, who said this system would mean developers could side-step democratic safeguards.

Hilary Herbert, president of the Planning Officers Society, said: 'We would be concerned by any proposal that takes out the democratic role that planners have.'

And society secretary David Hackforth added: 'If the responsibility [for planning] is transferred, there could be concerns about how the public interest is upheld.'

Heseltine stressed that the proposal was a personal view, and had yet to be agreed by the Cities Taskforce, which is due to report late next year.

by Angus Montgomery

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