New planning laws could spark outcry

Local authorities and businesses have been warned to prepare for a wave of headline-grabbing protests as a result of proposed changes to planning laws.

The Planning Bill will return to the House of Commons for another reading in October following this week's hearing in the House of Lords.

It proposes, controversially, that all major planning issues, including new airports and nuclear power stations, will be the responsibility of a centralised quango - which campaigners fear will not be responsive to public opinion.

'There will be a rise in local protests because citizens will have no chance to be heard,' predicted Friends of the Earth comms officer Jenny Collins. 'It will be a return to the 1980s and the days of the Newbury Bypass protests.'

Friends of the Earth has been lobbying the Government and the opposition for more than a year, but it is up against the powerful lobbying muscle of the CBI.

The changes may also have an impact on the work of PR agencies specialising in planning issues, because local consultations could become a thing of the past.

But Friends of the Earth planning co-ordinator Naomi Luhde-Thompson said large conglomerates with interests in major infrastructure projects would need to keep consulting the public, or face losing credibility. 'Is the community going to trust BAA, for instance, to run a fair consultation process?'

Nick Jones, a former Westminster lobbyist and director at M&N Communications, also warned that PROs should still recommend consultation to their clients, or risk massive CSR problems.

'We recommend that those companies with CSR policies and agendas continue to consult the public,' he said.

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