UK government to continue fast-tracking infra

The UK’s coalition government has pledged to continue fast-tracking major infrastructure projects despite abolishing the previous government’s Infrastructure Planning Commission, which was set up for this purpose.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, which was elected in May this year, says it will be creating a new Major Infrastructure Planning Unit within the Planning Inspectorate, which is part of the government’s Department for Communities and Local Government.

This sees the approval process for major infrastructure works brought back “in-house” after the abolition of the previous Labour administration’s Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), an organisation that was launched in October 2009.

The stated aim of the IPC had been to streamline the planning process for projects of national importance by replacing eight former planning systems with a single process – thereby reducing the gestation time of infrastructure planning decisions from up to seven years to less than a year.

But when in opposition, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had dismissed the IPC as an unaccountable quango (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation). Although the IPC had 42 proposals at “pre-application” stage, involving consultations and environmental impact assessments, none had been formally submitted.

Speaking to the BBC, minister of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark said: “New infrastructure is critical to the country’s return to economic growth and we believe we must have a fast track system for major projects – but it must be accountable.”

“The previous system lacked any democratic legitimacy by giving decision-making power away to a distant quango on issues critical to every community in the country,” Clark explained.