Planning fast-track reforms will benefit developers

A new Planning Court will tackle unnecessary delays for developers forced to wait months for a final decision, a Shropshire lawyer acting for a Mid Wales farmer affected by delays said today.

Senior Partner at FBC Manby Bowdler, Niall Blackie, welcomed the reforms to the Judicial Review system announced on Thursday, which will see legal disputes over major developments fast-tracked for consideration.

Mr Blackie said: “I fully support the creation of this new Planning Court announced by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. The reforms will mean important building projects which have the potential to create thousands of homes and jobs will not be held-up in the system for months on end.

“Delays in cases being heard is a major problem for our developer clients. Many of these cases are against Government decisions and sometimes are the only means available to challenge errors made by planning inspectors.

“But some are brought by objectors against developers who have already successfully argued their cases, and because there is currently no sifting process, an unmeritorious case can hold the development up.”

One of Mr Blackie's clients  is dairy farmer Fraser Jones, whose Lower Leighton Farm in Powys is currently the focus of a high-profile case in the planning courts.

Although Mr Jones was granted permission to build a 1,000 cow dairy unit last October, a challenge to the decision by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has halted all construction work pending a hearing.

Mr Blackie said: “Mr Jones has been prevented from starting work on a project which was approved four months ago, but presently it could take another six months until the challenge and trial process can start.

“It is particularly important to cut the time frame down. Presently, a case might be issued just within the six week time limit and then take eight or nine months to get to a hearing.

“I'm delighted to see the changes which will unclog the Judicial Review system and as the reforms will come in this summer, they will undoubtedly benefit some of our developer clients who currently have projects on hold while waiting for a decision.

The strong package of reforms include changes to make sure anyone making a claim faces a fair level of financial risk – ending the current situation where individuals and campaign groups can cause expensive delays with no cost or risk for themselves.

The changes have been designed to speed up the running of the process, while also driving out meritless cases which clog the courts and slow progress for legitimate applications.

There has been a huge growth in the number of judicial review applications in recent years. Applications more than doubled from 4,300 in 2000 to 12,600 in 2012. Yet, of the 440 which went on to a final hearing without being refused permission, withdrawn or settled in 2011 just 170 went in favour of the applicant. In 2012 the vast majority of applications, more than 10,000, were for immigration and asylum cases – but almost 200 were on planning issues.

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