John Prescott's ability to call in planning applications for public inquiry has been left in grave doubt after the High Court ruled that his powers go against newly adopted human rights legislation.
At the conclusion of four test cases brought by developers last month, judges said that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is not 'an independent and impartial tribunal'as demanded by the Human Rights Act. They argued: 'What is objectionable . . . is that he should be judge in his own cause where his policy is in play. In other words, he cannot be both policy maker and decision maker.' This could mean that local authorities become the final arbiters on all planning decisions and has raised fears that major schemes, such as Terminal Five at Heathrow, could be given the go-ahead with very limited public scrutiny from beyond the boundaries of the immediate local authority.
'The [dual] system, although it has served us well, appears to be in fundamental conflict with the Human Rights convention, 'said Royal Town Planning Institute human rights expert Peter Wilbraham.
Planning minister Nick Raynsford indicated in Parliament that the judgement will be taken to the court of appeal.Existing public inquiries will not be affected by the decision.