A government initiative to speed up the planning process could hamper the public’s involvement in the development of their community. A report by Kate Barker, commissioned by Gordon Brown and published in December 2006, outlines ways in which the government can save time and money by reducing public involvement in large scale planning applications. ‘Sufficient time must be taken to assess fully the potential impacts and the views and interests of local communities,’ writes Ms Barker. ‘But the very lengthy delays at present, and the high costs associated with them, indicate that major reform should be urgently considered.’

As a result the Government has committed to a new White Paper on planning this spring, which will take forward the recommendations outlined in the Barker Review. These include the development of an independent Planning Commission to determine whether applications should be dealt with at a local or national level and restrictions on the amount of time and money dedicated to appeals. ‘Decision making should be made at the most appropriate spatial level,’ Ms Barker said.

According to rural agencies such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Greenpeace, the recommendations pose a threat to wildlife and greenbelt areas. Major projects such as roads or nuclear power stations should, they believe, be decided with local input, democratic accountability, and in the framework of sustainable development.

Whereas the Barker Review proposes to give the public less involvement in major projects, rural groups such as the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) believe a community’s involvement in large scale developments in their area should be strengthened. ‘Local people should have control over their local area to make sure it doesn’t get captured by small interest groups,’ said Oliver Harwood, CLA chief surveyor. ‘Policy should be driven from the bottom up rather than from the top down.’ The CLA’s a href=”http://www.localworks.org ” title=”sustainable communities”>Sustainable Communities Bill extols exactly this principle.

‘The effect of the Barker proposal would be to create a separate planning system for major infrastructure projects, such as new airport runways and motorways, in parallel to the existing well-established and respected planning system,’ explained Transport 2000’s Transport Round-table Coordinator, Denise Carlo. ‘It would bypass local democratic accountability and local communities and would in our view be anti-democratic.’

The CPRE’s Head of Planning, Marina Pacheco, said: ‘The English countryside will be much more open to development if the Barker review is implemented. We must not allow economics to be the main driver of how England will develop.’