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Planning bill could fast track environmental harm

Last modified: 27 November 2007

Warndon housing project, cycleway and footpath alongside main road

Image: Andy Hay

Developers will be allowed to gloss over environmental concerns if the planning bill is not strengthened, the RSPB believes, following publication of legislation today.

The bill, for England and Wales, promises only weak guarantees of sustainability, which means the new commission responsible for major development decisions could push through projects that cause environmental harm.

Simon Marsh, Head of Planning at the RSPB, said: 'The bill is weak on sustainability which is very disappointing given the threat of climate change and the pressures on wildlife and wildlife habitats. As well as fast tracking planning applications, it could also hasten environmental damage.

'The minister is claiming that the bill will help protect the environment but it is more likely to aid developers trying to push through major schemes that have economic advantages but pay scant regard to wildlife and the countryside.'

The planning bill proposes that an independent commission make decisions on applications for large projects such new airports, runways and major roads and that the time taken from application to decision be cut to less than a year.

Bodies such as the Welsh Assembly and Natural England have a legal duty to promote sustainable development and the bill requires ministers to do the same. The new commission will have no such obligation.

Simon Marsh said: 'There is no sustainability duty for the major projects the new commission will be responsible for. Without it, the commission could ignore the environmental harm of large developments whether it’s the loss of natural habitats or soaring carbon emissions. This is a serious omission which the government must put right.'

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