SIR; Liz Hamson's piece on planning highlighted a number of serious problems with the UK's planning system. One of the biggest has to be conflict of interests. The article mentioned Darlington, where councillors recently voted against a Tesco store being built.

Questions clearly need to be asked about the impartiality of the private consultant hired by local government officers for independent advice

Colliers CRE welcomed the development and supported the council planning officer's delegated powers to recommend approval, according to local newspaper reports. But isn't it a conflict of interests for Colliers to act for Tesco elsewhere in the country?

In this instance public opinion swayed councillors against any development, but there are many examples elsewhere where ­councils are taking less than impartial advice from consultants.

Despite planning guidance laid down 12 years ago protecting the viability of town centres, consultants tend to recommend approval. Among the recent cases that spring to mind are: Berwick-on-Tweed, Castle Douglas and Crieff in Scotland, and now Darlington, Stalham and Sheringham. More often than not Tesco seems to be involved.

Other consultants whose clients include Tesco and British Land, a property company that often works with Tesco, include Berwin Leighton Paisner, which boasts on its website that it is able to "exercise influence... through a parliamentary agent" and "advise a large number of government departments and local authorities". Another firm, GVA Grimley, claims "a close relationship with many influential stakeholders that helps create a successful climate for planning applications".

Why are consultants purporting to be independent when they clearly have one of the party's interests - often Tesco's - in mind? And why are they advising central government? Now that Kate Barker has recommended relaxing the planning process, my fear is that things are only going to get worse.