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‘Planning chamber’ bid to cut development delays

Proposals have been put forward for a specialist planning court to help ensure crucial development projects do not suffer unnecessary legal delays.

The new planning chamber proposed by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is one of a package of measures designed to speed up the judicial review process and drive out what he called “vexatious” cases.

The proposal is contained in a consultation, launched on 6 September, which is also asking for views on whether, and how, to limit who can apply for a judicial review, for example, whether applications should be restricted to people with a direct interest in a case.

The “planning chamber” would see judicial review decisions relating to major developments taken only by expert judges and would take advantage of streamlined processes so they are considered as quickly as possible.

Developers have complained in the past that lengthy legal delays to projects have forced them into financial difficulty and have caused some schemes to collapse completely.

Mr Grayling said: “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 taxpayers.”

Other issues being consulted on in the consultation paper include:

  • changing the rules around who has to pay the legal bills for cases, so all parties have an equal interest in avoiding unnecessary costs
  • speeding up appeals in important cases by making it possible more often for them to be considered by the Supreme Court without first going to the Court of Appeal.

There has been a huge growth in the number of judicial review applications in recent years, causing the whole system to slow down.

Applications 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.

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.