Gummer on... Planning and climate law

Planning will be at the heart of the government's programme in the coming session of parliament.

Prime minister Gordon Brown will use his proposals to prove his climate credentials. The bruising experience of the Climate Change Bill, where all the pressures will force him to be on the defensive, will leave him needing to show his involvement in environmental solutions. The act will reach the statute book in a different form to that in which it was introduced to the Lords. Those improvements will have been forced on a Treasury and a premier who already feel that they have gone too far for their political good.

The planning bill is much safer. The justification is very simple. We live in a society that needs infrastructure. It must update its generating capacity, improve its railways and offer solutions to a real housing crisis. Government and parliament must make decisions in principle and override the local prejudice that is a barrier to progress.

Climate change is a vital factor in this argument. It lends respectability to a policy of centralisation. Clean coal power stations, nuclear power and railway extension will be argued as necessary to meet environmental demands. Climate change will be an excuse to assault civil liberties and impose national solutions without local participation.

As so often in the history of liberty, serious threats to society provide excuses for restriction and imposition. The planning profession would do well to avoid contamination by association with these plans. It is right that parliament should make decisions in principle, but it is also vital that the community that carries the consequences should have a say in their implementation.

Former environment secretary John Gummer is Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal.

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