By continuing to use the site you agree to our Privacy & Cookies policy

Specialist planning court set to launch this summer

A specialist, new fast-track planning court for major developments will hear its first cases this summer

First mooted last year, the new court has been designed to speed up the judicial review process and will see a limit placed on who is able to apply for a judicial review. A move which could mean campaign groups can no longer use the process to block building projects.

Set out as part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, it is estimated that the new planning court will tackle around 400 planning cases each year.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘Judicial Review must continue its role as a crucial check on the powers that be – but we cannot allow meritless cases to be a brake on economic growth. That would be bad for the economy, the taxpayer and the job-seeker, and bad for confidence in justice.

‘These changes will bring balance to the Judicial Review system, so justice is done but unmerited, costly and time-wasting applications no longer stifle progress.’

The British Property Federation has backed the new planning court saying it will ensure the delivery of important infrastructure and development projects.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: ‘The judicial review system over the last few years has been inefficient and counterproductive, with far too many cases being referred. The result has been stalled development and long periods of uncertainty at a time when we need it the least.

‘We were pleased when the government introduced reforms to the judicial review system in May last year, and are further encouraged to see that it has listened to the concerns of the property industry and heeded our calls for a specialist planning chamber. The introduction of a specialist court like this is likely to have a significant impact on delivery as it relieves the pressure on developers and planning authorities and will expedite the whole planning process.’

Adrian Penfold, head of planning and corporate responsibility at British Land, added: ‘The arrival of a specialist planning chamber is welcome news as it will allow cases that genuinely merit judicial review to be considered by experts in a timely and efficient manner. The judicial review system is important, and the creation of this new chamber is a significant step in ensuring that it is not abused and that it serves its correct purpose.’

Further comments

Simon Ricketts, partner at King & Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin

‘Dealing with planning litigation well is important not just to the individual litigants but to the wider economy. A specialist planning court has great potential to reduce further the delays and uncertainties caused by challenges to planning decisions, building on recent welcome improvements, and to ensure better access to judges with appropriate experience of what has become an exceptionally complex area of law.’

Craig Tabb, partner, DP9

The judicial review system has worked counter to aims of delivering new homes

‘A specialist court focused on the processing of major development cases is a very positive step. For too long the judicial review system has worked counter to government aims of delivering new homes, realising important regeneration and encouraging economic growth. The government’s proposals ought to mean a more predictable and less risky process, therefore, creating a better basis for speeding up development and investment.’

Marnix Elsenaar, head of planning at law firm Addleshaw Goddard 

‘Since the advent of localism, challenging planning decisions through the courts has become unavoidable for some parties. Last month’s Ministry of Justice aims to ensure that “crucial development projects no longer get mired in unnecessary legal delay”. Grayling said the proposals would “speed up the judicial review process” and “drive out meritless cases which clog up courts”.

‘On the face of it, these proposals are welcome. For example, blocking parties without a “direct or tangible” interest from getting involved in cases would remove developers’ ability to oppose rivals’ schemes on purely commercial grounds.

‘Members of the public and many working in the public sector often fail to grasp the cost of delay. Those investing in sites and preparing applications are risking huge sums in delivering public benefits through the regeneration of our towns and cities. The costs of delay fall squarely on the shoulders of developers and their shareholders. If councils lose a judicial review, taxpayers bear the cost and suffer the economic consequences of developments not proceeding.

‘The proposed changes aim to level the playing field. This doesn’t just mean sharing the costs, it also means making the system quicker and improving the quality of decisions. The proposals will give all parties an equal interest in ensuring that unnecessary costs are not incurred.

‘In taking forward the proposals, the government needs to tread a fine line between implementing procedural and costs reforms and not falling foul of human rights legislation or the Aarhus Convention on access to justice. But the huge growth in judicial review applications means something has to be done.

The huge growth in judicial review applications means something has to be done

‘The numbers make plain reading: less than 4 per cent of judicial review applications are successful. Applications have almost trebled from 4,500 in 1998 to 12,400 in 2012. But in 2012, just one in six were granted permission to proceed beyond initial consideration. According to government figures for 2011, just 163 of the 422 judicial review applications that went on to a final hearing without being withdrawn or settled were decided in favour of the applicant.

‘So the need for a quicker, more effective system for disposing of claims is not in doubt. But here’s the rub. It would be some irony if a quicker, cheaper system encouraged more claimants to challenge decisions. On the face of it, Grayling’s announcement is good news for developers. But government must beware of any unintended consequences.’

Previous story (06.09.13)

Government moots specialist ‘planning court’

The government has proposed introducing a new specialist planning court in an attempt to speed up major construction projects

The proposals have been designed to speed up the judicial review process and could also see a limit placed on who is able to apply for a judicial review. A move which could mean campaign groups can no longer use the process to block building projects.

The new planning chamber is one of a package of proposals designed to speed up the judicial review process and drive out cases which clog up courts and slow the progress of applications.

The changes would see judicial review decisions relating to major developments taken only by expert judges, which the government claims would speed up the process.

Developers have previously raised concern that lengthy legal delays to projects have forced them into financial difficulty and have caused some schemes to collapse completely.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘These proposals will ensure legal challenges are heard swiftly, so crucial new building projects no longer fall by the wayside because of needless delays.

‘We want to make sure judicial review continues its crucial role in holding authorities and others to account, but also that it is used for the right reasons and is not abused by people to cause vexatious delays or to generate publicity for themselves at the expense of ordinary tax-payers.’

The proposed planning court has been welcomed by the British Property Federation. Liz Peace, chief executive said: ‘A specialist planning court is something we’ve repeatedly made the case for over many years, and this simple measure should have a real impact on not only the speed of decisions, but the quality too. Having greater numbers of expert judges that understand planning is a huge step forward for the development community.’

However some critics have raised concern that the changes could limit local people from having a say in development.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment.

Related Jobs

Sign in to see the latest jobs relevant to you!

The searchable digital buildings archive with drawings from more than 1,500 projects

AJ newsletters