Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Another right bites the dust

One by one, the rights of ordinary citizens are being eroded by the state. Today it is turn of the right to object to having a nuclear power station or a new airport on your doorstep. Ever-eager to please business interests and developers, the New Labour government has announced that it intends to "streamline" the planning system to the point where objections, as well as objectors, to major projects will become essentially irrelevant. At present, all major projects are considered at a public planning inquiry and local people and other interested parties can make their case. A trained planning inspector then makes a recommendation, taking into account a whole series of environmental and other factors. This necessarily takes time as, for example, happened at Heathrow where opponents of a new terminal kept the fight going for five years. That process is going to be abandoned. Ruth Kelly, the communities secretary, announced that a new planning commission will take charge of the process for all major projects. Ministers will issue national policy statements about what the government considers are infrastructure needs for the country for 10-25 years. Then the commission will decide - usually within nine months. Kelly’s announcement is tied to the imminent announcement by the government of a new generation of nuclear power stations throughout Britain. This desperate, foolhardy attempt to deal with both the energy crisis and climate chaos at the same time is certain to arouse massive opposition, so changes to the planning process are aimed at stifling these voices.

So blatant are the proposals that they drew the angriest response seen for some time from a range of organisations, including Friends of the Earth, the New Economics Foundation, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Greenpeace and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which is currently opposing the expansion of Lydd airport in Kent. They all said that the proposals would weaken democracy and reverse the fight against climate change. Hugh Ellis, for Friends of the Earth, said: "You won't be able to object to a new nuclear power plant in your community, but you may be consulted on what colour gate it has." Simon Marsh, head of planning and regional policy at the RSPB, said discussing big projects at a national level would reduce local people's involvement in the planning process. "It becomes very difficult to argue the case against a project once it has been decided at a national level. If local people feel they cannot get involved in debating if a project is needed they will totally marginalised in the process." By introducing centralised decision-making, New Labour is once again revealing its contempt for local democracy and the right to protest. It all says a lot about the prime minister-elect Gordon Brown. The case for abandoning the democratic planning system was laid out by the economist Kate Barker, who was appointed by Brown to recommend changes that Kelly has now announced.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

No comments: