The Planning Court - one year on

A new Planning Court has now been operating for just over a year, with the aim of speeding up the planning system, particularly in the instance of judicial review (JR). David Brammer, partner at Lanyon Bowdler, examines what changes have already taken place and explores what may come next.

What is the background to the changes?

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) assisted the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) when they were exploring the impact of JR on planning a couple of years ago. Preliminary scoping work on how to minimise the impact of JR and statutory reviews on planning decisions is now ongoing again.

There does not seem to be any immediate government commitment to introduce further reforms, but they do wish to keep this issue under constant review.

How does the court make the planning process more effective?

Various measures have been introduced to speed up the consideration of challenges and to weed out ‘unmeritorious’ challenges, such as:

  • reducing the period in which a planning JR can be submitted (from three months to six weeks);
  • introducing a new Planning Court and specialist planning judges drawn from the planning bar with target timetables for ‘significant planning cases’; and
  • introducing a ‘permission filter’—a requirement for the court’s permission to be obtained—to bring a planning statutory review (to be implemented in the autumn).

What priorities does the new court now face?

CLG does acknowledge concerns remain over the impact of challenges on the implementation of planning decisions and is keen to understand these better.

The key issues have been summarised by the RTPI as follows:

  • assessing the problems—looking at the impacts of challenges on the implementation of planning decisions;
  • the government’s response—exploring views on government reforms to judicial review and statutory challenges over the past two years; and
  • future actions—examining suggestions for further measures to minimise the impact of challenges.

What is the basis for the decision to institute the new Planning Court?

The government announced the new Planning Court early in 2014 and established it in the summer to ‘support the government’s long term plan for economic recovery’. They estimated 400 planning cases a year would be resolved quicker by being fast-tracked for hearings with specialist judges, instead of ‘clogging the main Administrative Court’.

This was in response to growth in the number of judicial review applications in recent years, causing the whole system to slow down despite the fact that published statistics demonstrate that only a small proportion succeed.

Applications to the High Court more than doubled from 4,300 in 2000 to 12,600 in 2012. Of the 440 that went on to a final hearing without being refused permission, withdrawn or settled in 2011, just 170 went in favour of the applicant. In 2012, the vast majority of applications, more than 10,000, were for immigration and asylum cases—and almost 200 were on planning issues.

Interviewed by Julian Sayarer.

The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

Filed Under: Planning

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