An independent commission is to be set up to make decisions on major infrastructure projects such as motorways, airports and power stations. Communities and local government secretary Ruth Kelly said the reforms outlined in her planning white paper would produce a system that would be swifter and less bureaucratic.

“An inaccessible and sometimes baffling system makes it hard for people to have their say on issues which can have a big impact on their quality of life,” said Kelly. “Too often it favours the well resourced over the less well-off.”

Ms Kelly said the paper would meet the country’s key infrastructure needs for the next ten to 25 years. It will seek to prevent a repeat of the seven-year wrangle over permission for Heathrow’s Terminal 5 by setting a statutory limit of nine months for most decisions.

Environmentalists accused the government of trying to push through controversial developments such as nuclear power plants and airport runways in the face of community opposition. But business said the changes would help the UK deliver the major transport and energy projects which the country needs to compete internationally.

According to the department for communities and local government, the new system will replace over eight different planning regimes and could save more than £1bn in the next decade.