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LONDON-The government has promised a shake-up of the planning system for major infrastructure projects. The decision on Terminal Five, which will almost double capacity at London’s Heathrow Airport is expected imminently after a five-year planning battle, and Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, is determined that such delays will not happen again.

‘We need a modern and fair process for making decisions about big infrastructure projects such as new airports, runways and roads,’ he said. ‘These big projects are essential for our economic future but they are also controversial because they often affect the lives of people living near the planned project.’

To speed up the process parliament will be able to debate the broad principles of major proposals ahead of the public inquiry, and the government will set out its policy on airports, roads or bridges before major projects are considered in the planning system. And once public inquiries begin inspectors will be given stronger powers to impose time-tables for debate. Public Inquiries will have more clearly focussed terms of reference.

At the same time the government is looking at ways of speeding up the delivery of major transport infrastructure projects through the streamlining the pre-construction phase and better procurement techniques. It is estimated that these measures could cut 3 to5 years off the 10 years it now takes to start works on a road scheme.

The plans received a cautious welcome from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. Andrew Warner RICS planning policy panel chairman, said: ‘It is clear that the government is finally moving in the right direction…Uncertainty and inadequate decision making benefits neither business nor the general public.’ But he called for more detailed proposals to be issued as soon a s possible.

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