Opposition response highlights fundamantal change and death of localism

In the package of reforms intended to speed up the planning system, the coalition government announced that it would legislate to allow applications to be decided by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) if the local authority has a track record of consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions.

Speaking yesterday during a House of Commons debate on the reforms, shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said that the proposal “is not a technical detail, but a fundamental change in which [the communities secretary Eric Pickles] proposes to take the power in future to decide whether he thinks that local planning decisions are up to scratch”.

Benn added: “If he does not, planning power will be taken out of the hands of local people. So much for localism.” Benn said that the proposals would “cause alarm up and down the country”.

But Pickles told MPs that “some councils need to raise their game, as they are failing to make planning decisions in a timely way”. He said: “Planning delays create uncertainty, both for local residents and local firms.”

Responding to a question from communities and local government select committee chair Clive Betts, who questioned “how can it possibly be localist to transfer planning decisions from local councils to PINS”, Pickles said that the reforms represented “muscular localism”.

Pickles said: “This is about working hand in hand with local people. There might be a degree of muscular localism about it, but we will work together with good local authorities.”

“It is only those local authorities that have been dragging their feet and being wholly unrealistic, operating in a kind of economy la-la land that we will be dealing with.”

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