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Planning rocked by referendum rejection

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Democracy in the planning system took a major hit last week, critics have warned, when the people of north-east England voted overwhelmingly to reject an elected regional assembly.

The Planning Act, made law earlier this year, forced the abandonment of structure plans and replaced them with regional spacial strategies, under the control of Regional Assemblies.

However, following the referendum rejection, democratic control over the new strategies has received a significant setback because deputy prime minister John Prescott has vowed to retain the regional authorities but on an appointed, unelected basis.

The Council for the Protection of Rural England has warned that planning's democratic legitimacy has been endangered.

'It is essential that the council and unitary councils, which are directly elected, make the maximum use of the powers they have to shape these strategies, ' policy chief Neil Sinden said.

'If Regional Assemblies do not listen and respond, much of the planning system's legitimacy will be lost and that will be a tragedy, ' he added.

Royal Town Planning Institute head of policy David Barraclough agreed: 'There is a problem with a democratic deficit. What we have ended up with is high-level plans being decided by, at best, indirect democracy.'

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