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The new Planning Court opens for business: expediting planning challenges

29 April 2014

The government has already introduced a number of changes to speed up challenges to planning permissions and other decisions. As part of those changes, the new Planning Court opened for business on 7 April 2014 - new target timetables for significant judicial review and statutory challenges will be of interest to developers and landowners. Further reforms are under review.

What changes have already taken place?

The time limit for applications for permission to seek judicial review of planning decisions has already been reduced from 3 months to 6 weeks, to be aligned with s288 statutory challenges to appeal decisions.

Where permission is refused on the papers, the right to apply for a reconsideration of the application at a hearing (known as "oral renewal") can be refused if the case is considered to be totally without merit. A new fee for oral renewal hearings has been introduced.

What will the Planning Court deal with?

The new Planning Court is able to consider challenges to planning permissions, including judicial reviews and s288 statutory challenges. It may also deal with cases relating to development consents, planning enforcement, highways, town or village greens, compulsory purchase, national, regional or other planning documents and any other matter the judge considers appropriate. 

Claims will form a specialist list under the control of the Planning Liaison Judge. It was recently announced that Mr Justice Lindblom, currently President of the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) will be the first Planning Liaison Judge 

What difference will the new court make?

The main change is that, where claims are classed as "significant", target timescales apply. Claims which are not "significant" will be dealt with in the usual way.

Planning claims are "significant" if they:

  • relate to commercial, residential or other developments that have significant economic impact (either at the local level or beyond their immediate locality)
  • raise important points of law or generate significant public interest, or
  • due to the volume or nature of technical material, are best dealt with by specialist judges with experience of dealing with such matters.

For "significant" claims, target timescales apply as follows (subject to the interests of justice):

  • applications for permission to apply for judicial review are to be determined on the papers within 3 weeks of the expiry of the time limit for filing of acknowledgment of service
  • where permission is refused on the papers and the claimant requests a hearing, the hearing will take place within 1 month of receipt of the request
  • where permission is granted, the substantive hearing will take place within 10 weeks from the expiry of the 35 day period (from the date of permission) for submission of detailed grounds by the defendant or other party
  • appeals against certain enforcement decisions will be determined within 1 month, and
  • other challenges (including s288 challenges to appeal decisions) will be heard within 6 months from the date of issue.

Any planning challenge can be expedited if the judge considers it necessary to deal with the case justly. 

Developers whose permissions are subject to challenge will usually want the challenge to be designated as significant so that the shorter target timescales apply. 

The new target timetables should result in greater certainty for developers seeking speedy disposal of claims classed as significant.  However, it remains to be seen whether the court will have sufficient resources to meet the target timescales in all cases, and whether claims that aren't classed as significant take even longer to reach final determination as a result.

Further reform

Further amendments are contained in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, currently making its way through Parliament. The Bill contains the following proposals to reform judicial review further:

  • the introduction of a "permission" stage in statutory challenges to appeal decisions under s288 - the "leave" of the court will be required
  • the court must refuse permission on judicial review and refuse to grant relief if it is highly likely that the outcome for the applicant would not have been substantially different if the conduct complained of had not occurred
  • provisions to require the claimant to provide details of any funding (including by third parties) so that the information can be taken into account in any costs application, and
  • allowing cases more easily to "leapfrog" to the Supreme Court, bypassing the Court of Appeal.

These provisions will be subject to further debate and potential change before the Bill becomes law. Whilst the introduction of the "permission" stage in statutory challenges will be welcomed by some, there is scope for the permission stage on all challenges to become more drawn out, as the parties argue over what difference the conduct in question would have made to the applicant.

This article was written by James Souter.

For more information please contact James on +44 (0)20 7427 6716 or james.souter@crsblaw.com.