The government’s Justice department has published plans for a new planning court that will employ specialist judges to deal with disputed schemes, who will work to fixed time limits.
The idea is that the special chamber will fast-track the resolution of disputes to get construction projects started more quickly.
Provision for a planning court is contained in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. It is expected to be up and running by the summer and take on 400 planning cases a year.
The government said: “It will support the growing economy by reducing unnecessary and costly legal delays which developers have previously blamed for the collapse of potential major building schemes.”
A key reform is that anyone lodging a judicial review challenge to a scheme will have to take on ‘a fair level’ of financial risk.
Mike Pocock, infrastructure & planning partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, said: “This will have widespread implications to those looking to make a planning claim on major infrastructure projects.”
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 government is seeking to ease the burden on a clogged judicial review system. Judicial review applications rose from 4,300 in 2000 to 12,600 in 2012. More than 10,000 of these were for immigration and asylum cases; fewer than 200 were on planning issues.
The British Property Federation (BPF) said the planning court was good news for the property industry. Chief Executive Liz Peace 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.”
British Land head of planning and corporate responsibility Adrian Penfold 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.”
Craig Tabb, a partner at planning consultant DP9, said: "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."