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Speed not the only problem, planning chiefs tell Labour

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Planning chiefs have welcomed Labour's promise to cut through planning red tape but warned it not to focus only on speeding up the system.

The business manifesto launched by the party last week, The Best Place to do Business, pledged to streamline the planning process for large infrastructure projects. Public inquiries for bigger schemes would have stricter timetables and clearer terms of reference, it said.

'Too often the planning system is dogged by delay to no one's benefit, ' said the document, promising measures to approve projects in principle. Labour would issue national policyframework statements for projects before they go through planning to cut out unnecessary debate.

A party spokeswoman said a major thrust would be to move councils away from committee decisions to leaner cabinet-style meetings.

The Royal Town Planning Institute welcomed the pledges and said that when plans for Heathrow's Terminal 5 first took off there were no airport, regional or national policies. 'That was no way to determine a major project, ' said David Rose, RTPI public affairs director. But there was also a need for a spatial-planning framework to bring all the policies on airports, roads and energy together, he said.

Rose warned against singling out slow decisionmakers. 'The government recently identified the 15 slowest planning authorities - but they aren't the worst. There's more to a well-organised, well-delivered process than speed, ' he said.

Robert Shaw, a policy officer at the Town and Country Planning Association, warned that speeding up the system could reduce accountability and public participation.

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