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New planning court to fast-track disputes

Words: Roger Milne
Supreme court

Resolution of major planning disputes will speed up with the introduction of a new planning court from this summer.

The new court will see specialist judges handling reviews of major development proposals under a fast-track system that works to a fixed timetable – reducing the time taken for a planning decision from three months to six weeks.

The government claims the new planning court will see 400 cases a year settled more quickly, rather than “clogging” the Administrative Court. This will support the economy by reducing costly delays in major developments that in some cases led to the collapse of building schemes, it said.

The new court was announced alongside a raft of measures to speed up judicial reviews within the new Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. The planning court is not itself part of the bill but will be introduced via secondary legislation.

In addition to speeding up judicial reviews, the bill proposes that individuals and campaigners bringing reviews have to bear some of the cost of the action. Treasury solicitors say the cost to tax payers to defend each case against the government (the defendant in most judicial reviews) ranges from £1,500 to £25,000.

“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,” said Grayling. “That would be bad for the economy, the taxpayer and the jobseeker, 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 number of judicial review applications has risen rapidly, from 4,300 in 200 to 12,600 in 2012. Most (more than 10,000) relate to immigration and asylum cases, with just 200 on planning issues in 2012.

These cases can take more than a year to resolve, with the average time for a planning review being 370 days in 2011.

In 2011, just 440 judicial review applications went on to a final hearing without being refused permission, withdrawn or settled. Of these, 170 went in favour of the applicant.

Response to the announcement of a new planning court was mixed. Liz Peace of the British Property Federation (BPF) welcomed the proposal, saying: “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.”

However, Lord Neuberger, the president of the Supreme Court, was reported by the Daily Telegraph as saying: “One must be very careful about any proposals whose aim is to cut down the right to judicial review. The courts have no more important function than that of protecting citizens from the abuses and excesses of the executive.”