More changes to the planning system are on the way in the next few months to help prepare the country for entry into the euro, chancellor Gordon Brown has announced.
Planning reforms will be central to overcoming one of the key obstacles to joining - the shortage of housing, Brown said on Tuesday.
'What we are looking at first of all is the supply of housing, ' Brown told Radio 4's To d a y programme. 'The planning system must work faster and we're bringing into place a lot of measures, and may do more over the course of the next few months. The time limits that are taken for planning applications have got to be improved, ' he added.
The pledge to push ahead with planning reform - which followed the chancellor's decision on Monday to reject entry to the euro - came as the government moved to allay fears this week that it is set to abandon its much-heralded Planning Bill.
Last Thursday, planning minister Lord Rooker confirmed that the bill was being withdrawn from this session of parliament, as predicted by the AJ last week. Observers fear the move will spell the beginning of the end for the bill, predicting it will be quietly dropped next session and replaced with piecemeal secondary legislation (AJ 5.6.03).
But in a statement on Thursday, Rooker said he was confident the bill would be given royal ascent early next year and he insisted the government remained 'absolutely committed' to making the planning system 'fairer, faster and more efficient'.
Although Rooker claimed the decision had been taken to allow for the inclusion of an additional measure - to end the Crown's immunity to planning controls - in earlier briefings the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) blamed the delay on a backlog due to the war in Iraq.
A spokesman for the ODPM this week denied there was a contradiction in the government's position. 'At the end of the day, we could have got the bill through even with the war in Iraq, but it would have been very difficult, ' he said. 'The obvious option was to carry it over. And we thought if we do that we have more time to add extra measures.'
He denied that the bill would be dropped next year, in anticipation of fierce resistance from the Lords to the removal of planning powers from county councils. But he conceded that when the Bill does finally reach the Lords 'there will certainly be an interesting discussion'.
Opposition MP and former environment secretary John Gummer said he was convinced the government was committed to the bill. The inclusion of the additional measures allowed Rooker to take advantage of a recent reform in parliamentary procedure and to justify carrying it over to the next session, he said. 'Someone has done some very clever negotiations, ' Gummer added.
CABE has welcomed the plans to drop Crown immunity from planning control but described it as a 'tidying up operation'. Head of partnerships Stephen King said the measure would add to more open consultation on designs for Crown Estates, the NHS, MoD and other government buildings. However, he said it was primarily a formalisation, as the Crown already submits plans voluntarily to local authorities for consideration.