The government won a vote to speed up the planning of major infrastructure projects such as building a third Heathrow runway last night after a planned Labour rebellion fizzled out.


Final planning decisions will in future be in the hands of an unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) rather than taken by local councils or ministers. Its first decision could be on a new runway at Heathrow.


Conservative shadow planning minister Jacqui Lait denounced the IPC as “an unelected and unaccountable quango”.


Rebel Labour MPs had called for the final decision on a third runway and plans for new generation of nuclear power stations to be left to ministers and more than 60 signed a motion declaring the proposals undemocratic. But on the night only 17 defied the government, giving it a majority of 303 votes to 260.


Ministers argue the new system will include public consultation and take account of local authority reports, but they believe it will significantly speed up construction plans by removing those responsible for decisions from the pressure of protests by constituents.


Parliamentary undersecretary for transport Jim Fitzpatrick said the new process will mean: “The government will present a national policy statement to parliament, there will be public consultation and a parliamentary vote and then it will go to the commission.”


However, Labour MP John Grogan warned the change could lead to an increase in public protests. “We are going to have a whole load of protests slowing-up these infrastructure projects,” he said.