UK - Opposition to planning reforms threatens to squeeze private-sector investment out of UK infrastructure, according to employers' body the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).

Legislative reforms currently before the upper house of the UK's bicameral parliament include a proposal to set up an infrastructure planning commission aimed at bypassing local decision-making discretion often perceived as lengthy, arbitrary and politically charged.

In a briefing to journalists last week, CBI deputy director general John Cridland addressed concerns over energy supply, claiming failure to invest £100bn in infrastructure by 2020 meant that "in 2015 the lights in the UK will start going out".

Cridland said the bill "would allow Britain to invest in its future, building new power stations that supply our homes, and the infrastructure that connects them…It would allow planning permission to reflect the national interest."

Local control over planning decisions has often favoured Nimbyism (local opposition to projects by residents because it will affect them directly) over national demand for energy infrastructure. Cridland cited five planning applications for gas storage made since 2004 - none of them successful.

"Business will not invest in national-interest projects that risk being derailed by problems with the current planning process," he said. Regional government bodies have already identified pension funds and other investors as potential infrastructure investors. Earlier this year, the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) mooted a €1.25bn fund to invest in infrastructure projects.

In a parliamentary debate following the CBI‘s criticisms, the minister responsible for the reform through the second chamber re-affirmed the government's intention to introduce "a major and essential break with the past".

Baroness Kay Andrews said: "Policy-making and decision-making are hopelessly confused. The function of the planning inquiry should be to interrogate individual projects, assess local impacts, and to decide whether they should be built in the place and manner proposed. However, in practice, inquiries into individual projects are frequently hijacked by the wider and more contentious debate into the merits of national policy, and whether any sort of infrastructure should be built at all."

A revamp of planning had been one of the recommendations put forward at the beginning of 2007 in a parliamentary sub-committee. That committee, however, saw planning reform as a potential bulwark against "the unregulated whims of international capital".

Despite partial political hostility to private-sector involvement, the UK has to date represented one of the most open markets for pension fund infrastructure investment. The Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) is part of a consortium that acquired Associated British Ports Holdings (ABP) in 2006. The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (OTPP) last May acquired just under 50% of the UK's Birmingham Airport in a joint venture with Australian fund manager Victoria Funds Management Corporation in a €615m deal.