LOCAL planning authorities and others are being consulted on the Green Paper on the future of planning entitled Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change. They have been given until March 18 to respond.

The Green Paper is being referred to the development management committee and the environment policy and review panel of Rushmoor Borough Council, for comment.

The government's planning Green Paper heralds the biggest shake-up in the planning system for more than 50 years.

Sadly, the government's proposals will also herald one of the biggest blows to local democratic accountability and environmental protection over the same period.

Greater centralisation and loss of locally-elected control, together with a threat of increased greenfield development, are just some of the worrying themes that run throughout this paper.

All this and to be replaced by a system overtly bureaucratic, cumbersome, but above all increasingly unaccountable.

The abolition of county structure plans, ending the planning role of the county councils, is a retrograde step, removing as it does a layer of democratically elected representation.

In turn, the government intends this process to be carried out at a regional level by non-elected quangos.

Quite apart from being too big and too remote to function effectively, this is of course another stride towards the government's democratically bankrupt agenda of regional governance. If enacted a gaping vacuum, where democratic, strategic planning used to be, would emerge.

The development of Business Zones, allowing developers free rein within a designated area, alongside new powers for the Secretary of State to decide over major infrastructure projects such as power stations and airports, are two further examples where the Green Paper erodes democratic participation and accountability.

Planning is one of the most contentious and emotional issues in local government, yet many of the government's proposals within its Green Paper will remove this process further away from local people and local communities.

It is clear that the government is trying to have its cake and eat it — saying that it wants planning to empower local communities whilst at the same time proposing to take away key opportunities to influence crucial decisions.

I hope that some of these concerns will be borne in mind by Rushmoor Borough Council when they make their response to the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU.

Cllr Colin Balchin, vice-chairman of the development control committee, Rushmoor Council.