As I'm sure you are aware, the controversial Planning Bill is voted on by MPs this evening. It is worth noting that Labour have deliberately planned this vote on the evening of the Henley by-election, to cash in on the fact that a few Conservative and Lib Dem MPs will be away from the House.
Among other things, the Planning Bill abolishes the Planning Minister (in this case, the dreaded Hazel) having the final say on major planning decisions, such as airports, power stations and things of that ilk. Instead, such power will be invested in an unelected planning quango. Hazel appeared on GTMV this morning - because she loves its hard-hitting journalism - and had this to say:
"Under this Bill they get a chance even before a proposal comes forward to really have a say so I want to make sure the public get a bigger say... I'm going to make absolutely sure that people in future get a bigger say than they've had in the past."
Apparently, under the current rules, people only get one chance to appeal against major planning decisions of this nature; I presume to the Planning Minister. Hazel contends that this new proposal will give people three separate chances to appeal. But she ignores the two most important issues here. First of all, what is significant is not how many bites at the complaint cherry people have, but rather in what fashion they can express their outrage if they don't get the decision they want. Theoretically, if Hazel makes a hugely unpopular decision, it will have consequences for the government, and maybe even her as a sitting MP. But if an unelected quango makes an hugely unpopular decision, where is the mechanism to remove its members? And secondly, because we all have experience with Labour and quangos in the past, I have no doubt that this quango body will be stuffed to the brim with Labour supporters. This will tend to mean that the government will get the decisions it wants, while someone else will take all the flack for them. If the Planning Bill passes tonight, and if the quango starts making some pretty awful decisions, I hope people will remember the government which created the body in the first place.
Update - the Bill has passed by a majority of 43; 303 to 260.