By Daniel Hunter

Residents, businesses and locally elected councillors in some areas of the country will be locked out of decisions on major developments including new housing, factories and mining sites which could instead be taken by government's planning quango.

From October, major planning applications will be able to bypass councils in certain parts of the country.

Local areas will be penalised if planning decisions taken over the past two years have not fallen in line with government's new planning criteria.

In these areas, developers proposing new mining sites, waste facilities, housing developments and large business premises will be able to choose to have planning applications decided upon behind closed doors by the Planning Inspectorate, rather than in public by the local authority.

The Local Government Association is warning that government's recently announced criteria for measuring performance is "fundamentally flawed'.

The criteria penalises those areas which have received relatively few major planning applications. It also fails to recognise good decision-making, focusing instead on meeting a one-size-fits-all system of timetable targets.

The criteria will be applied retrospectively to councils based on decisions they have taken over the past two years. For most of that period the criteria will not acknowledge situations where councils and developers have agreed time extensions for complex applications to ensure decisions are made within timescales that reflect the complexity of the proposed development

"This is an unnecessary and fundamentally flawed approach that will do nothing to help growth. Councils say yes to 87 per cent of applications of this type, and have been focusing on working with developers to iron out problems, improve development and make the right decision rather than turning down an application to meet a deadline," Cllr Mike Jones, Chairman of the LGA's Environment and Housing Board, said.

"Councils are now being told long after the fact that they should have been focusing instead on a ticking clock.

"It means that rather than important decisions being made by elected representatives in a forum where local people can have a say, they will instead be made behind closed doors by an unelected bureaucrat from Bristol. This is a massive blow to transparency and a major step backwards for the planning system in this country.

"We agree with the need for timely and good quality planning decisions. But this is an absolutely wrong and counterproductive way to go about it. If there are genuine concerns about the length of time being taken to make planning decisions in some areas, the solution should lie in working with the council to improve, not removing them from the planning process entirely."

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