Serious delays in the House of Lords are set to hit the long-awaited Planning Bill, with one eminent peer even predicting the government will scrap it.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has admitted it expects the Lords to reject the bill after it clears the Commons in May.
Liberal Democrat Baroness Hamwee, a vice president of the Town and Country Planning Association, said the government needed to drop one piece of legislation this year because of lack of time. 'I expect it to be the Planning Bill, ' she said.
A hold-up in the Lords will delay royal assent, initially timetabled for the summer, to 'sometime in 2004 at the earliest' - months behind John Prescott's original schedule. An ODPM spokesman admitted the bill had caused 'major disquiet' in the upper chamber about the government's failure to 'commit to sustainability'.
'There have been many popular misconceptions about the bill and there is a lot of widespread frustration, ' he said. 'I expect the Lords to kick up a fuss and insist that the Commons takes another look.' The spokesman added that opponents of the bill in the Lords are also 'determined to force the government' to drop its commitment to remove legislative power from the county councils.
Hamwee said that many in the Lords believe the Planning Bill is a 'waste of time'.
'This was supposed to be a 'big bang' approach to reforming the system for the benefit of business, ' she told the AJ. 'It has not happened and all most people want now is for the current system to be made to work better.'
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors is also keen for the Lords to force the Commons to reassess the bill, already proposing amendments to peers. 'We are frustrated with the government and the bill and want to encourage real changes, ' said policy director Michael Chambers.