Justice secretary Chris Grayling is proposing to set up a specialist planning court that would speed up the resolution of planning disputes.
The proposals, now out for consultation, also suggest restricting the right to a legal challenge only to those with a direct interest. Applicants who bring cases will also have to pay some of the legal bills of the project developer if their challenge fails.
The reforms are an attempt to combat the recent growth judicial review applications – only a small proportion of which succeed.
Applications for judicial reviews more than doubled from 4,500 in 1998 to 12,400 in 2012, but in 2012 just one in six were granted permission to proceed beyond the first consideration of the application. Of the 422 which went on to a final hearing without being withdrawn or settled in 2011 just 163 went in favour of the applicant.
Cases often take more than a year to resolve. For planning cases, the average time to resolve an application which went all the way to a final hearing was 370 days in 2011.
The proposed “planning chamber” would see judicial review decisions relating to major developments taken only by “expert judges” using “streamlined processes”.
Mr 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.”
British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace said: “Access to justice is a mainstay of the rule of law in this country, but if it can be sensibly sped up and streamlined, this should be welcomed.
“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.”
The consultation on Judicial Review: proposals for further reform will run for eight weeks.