UK’s fast-track planning scheme to be culled

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has officially set in motion its plan to abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission, an organisation that was launched by the previous, Labour government last year with the aim of speeding up planning approval for large infrastructure projects considered to be of national importance.

The UK’s Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) was given notice in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech that it will be abolished by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. The Queen’s Speech, which is written by the government and delivered by the Queen, sets out the legislative agenda for the year ahead.

The IPC was launched by the Labour government in October 2009 and was intended to streamline the planning process for major infrastructure projects, acting as an adviser to developers of projects seen as vital to the national interest. The Commission targeted projects in the power, road, rail, water and waste infrastructure sectors.

It replaced eight former planning systems with a single process and aimed to reduce the gestation time of infrastructure planning decisions from up to seven years to less than a year, which the government argued could save the country as much as £300 million (€327 million; $476 million).

However, prior to the general election, the Conservative party made clear that it would get rid of the IPC if elected. Bob Neill, the party’s planning spokesman, described it in an interview with the Times newspaper in January this year as “the most unaccountable and distant quango [quasi non-governmental organisation] in existence” and claimed that “at the stroke of a pen, it will be able to wipe whole communities off the map or blight their lives”.

The Liberal Democrats had also been a critic of the IPC, saying that planning decisions should stay with local councils.

The scrapping of the IPC is expected to be part of a Devolution and Local Government Bill, to be introduced later this year and which the government hopes will become law in 2011.

In a letter to developers, IPC chairman Sir Michael Pitt said that “in the meantime, the existing process continues, and the examination of applications will not be delayed due to the anticipated changes. We will work flexibly with Government to ensure a seamless transfer to any new arrangements”.

In March this year, the IPC announced it was effectively up and running with its first applications from the energy and transport sectors being considered. It said applications for energy projects had the potential to provide “up to £50 billion worth of investment and supply electricity to 22 million homes”.