Government's planning reforms 'like demolishing the whole house to mend the roof'

An attack by almost 20 conservation and environmental groups on the planning changes proposed in the government's white paper leads our newspaper roundup.

Proposals in the government’s planning white paper are “akin to demolishing the whole house just to mend the roof”, a letter signed by 18 planning, heritage and environmental organisations in The Telegraph (subscription required) claims. The planning system “needs careful, sensible reform” rather than “the major, hurried and untested changes” in the document, according to the signatories, who include representatives of the Town and Country Planning Association, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and umbrella body The Heritage Alliance. “Ministers should invest in an evidence-led planning system that is empowered to meet the Government’s environmental, social and economic objectives,” they write.

The High Speed Two (HS2) rail project “passes the point of no return” today, The Times (subscription) says, as Boris Johnson is expected to attend a ceremony coinciding with the start of tunneling for the route’s first phase between London and Birmingham, in what the paper calls “a pivotal moment for Europe’s biggest infrastructure project”. The prime minister will declare that HS2 is “at the heart of our plans to build back better”. Already £12 billion has been spent on the line, while a further £14 billion of contracts have been signed, the paper adds.

Outline planning permission has been granted for a controversial £500 million development scheme in central Belfast, involving a mixture of new offices, shops and housing and covering nearly five hectares, the Irish News reports. Planning officials backed Castlebrooke Investments’ application late last year, but concerns over social housing, open spaces and built heritage delayed the formal approval by Belfast City Council’s planning committee until Wednesday night this week. Save Cathedral Quarter acting chair Agustina Martire said the campaign group had “generated thousands of objections” to the proposals. But Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton called it “a much needed boost for the Belfast economy”.

Also in Belfast, a new £12 million aquarium, “the biggest facility of its kind” on the island of Ireland, has been approved, the Belfast Telegraph reports. Operator ReefLive expects the attraction, in the city’s dockside Titanic Quarter, to attract up to 300,000 visitors a year. But the papers says it “threatens the survival” of the Exploris aquarium 50km away on the Ards peninsula, previously Northern Ireland's only aquarium, which was granted a rescue package in 2012.

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