Barker lays down details for reform

A presumption in favour of major infrastructure was signalled by chancellor Gordon Brown in this week's pre-budget report.

The report says that the presumption would apply so long as proposals are consistent with national policy, EU law and human rights principles.

The commitment echoes major reforms outlined in Kate Barker's planning review.

Barker recommends a general presumption in favour of development where local plans are unclear unless economic, social or environmental costs outweigh benefits. The change harks back to the pre-1991 era of fewer building restrictions.

The RTPI called this "calamitous" and claimed that it will lead to poor-quality development and delays. "A presumption of development is a charter for tin sheds," warned secretary-general Robert Upton. "It will increase the burden on planning and do nothing to increase its speed."

But the British Property Federation praised Barker's pro-development stance. "Barker is trying to make the system work efficiently, not proposing that we demolish it," said chief executive Liz Peace.

The review backed the findings of the Eddington transport study (see page 6) proposing an overhaul of planning for major infrastructure such as transport, waste and energy. As predicted by Planning, an independent planning commission will be created to decide individual applications, following strategic objectives set out by ministers (Planning, 3 November, p1).

Barker raises the possibility of building on the green belt, advising councils to allow unattractive or previously used areas to be earmarked for development.

The review also proposes the removal of needs tests for retail applications, with developers only required to show that likely demand would make a project viable. Friends of the Earth warned that scrapping the tests would lead to more out-of-town stores, destroying town centres.

Planning adviser Hugh Ellis said: "This is a one-sided report. If it is implemented then developments will be pushed through regardless of the concerns of local communities."

- For more on the Barker review see pages 2 and 11.

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