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The Budget, the Planning Court and judicial review tweaks

Angus Walker picture-13This entry reports on the infrastructure implications of yesterday's Budget and amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill that will amend Planning Act 2008 judicial review timescales.


The 2014 Budget was delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne MP yesterday. The main budget document can be found here. He said 'pension' or 'pensioner' 29 times, and 'young' twice, but what about planning and infrastructure?

The budget document has a very small section on planning, much smaller than previous budgets in this Parliament. There is to be a consultation on permitted development based on a three-tier system - i.e. permitted development for the smallest developments, where planning permission is given in advance for classes of development, 'prior approval rights', where approval in principle is given in advance but details need to be signed off by the local authority, and full planning permissions.

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As part of this there will be consultation on further relaxation of changing uses to residential without needing a planning application - this has already happened with business premises and it is proposed to extend this to warehousing and light industry, which will be welcomed by those who enjoy living in warehouses and factories. The retail class is also to be widened and minor changes to businesses' car parks etc. won't need planning permission. Legislation was also laid last week to allow shops to become banks without a planning application, amongst other things.

The 2014 review gets a mention but nothing specific, and there is yet greater haste in the reform of judicial review. The Planning Court that is to be carved out of the Administrative Court of the High Court is to be launched on 6 April, earlier than the 'summer' previously announced. More on this below.

Alongside the budget a National Infrastructure Plan: finance update was published. At Annex B at the end it has the most concise description of the 'top 40 priority infrastructure investments' I've seen, but otherwise as its name suggests it's more to do with raising money to pay for infrastructure than planning it. The Annex B table says whether each of the investements is to be publicly funded, public-private, 'corporate', or 'project-specific'.

Judicial review changes

Changes to High Court procedure already involve the introduction of a 'planning fast track' where certain steps in the process are given target timescales, and are going to involve the creation of a Planning Court within the High Court now to be in a mere 2 1/2 weeks' time.

Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill contains various legislative changes to judicial review. I was quizzed by MPs last week on them and managed to get the new word 'cloggees' into Hansard - see column 149 here.

The points I made were that planning cases are a very small proportion of the total - just 188 were classified as 'Town and Country Planning' out of 12,434 judicial reviews in 2012, and so it is wrong to characterise planning as clogging up the courts. On the other hand, it is important that they are considered swiftly because they often affect large numbers of people. I think it is less about the number of claims and more about the time to deal with them.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the planning fast track is making a difference, but the reach of it is only until a hearing, at which point things slow down again. For example, the Rookery South judgment still hasn't been published, six weeks after it was given. Also, the fast track means less flexibiilty with listing dates, and so more chance that lawyers will be unavailable, but perhaps that could be remedied by offering a window of a few days rarther than a single day.

Of interest to Planning Act regime users is a set of amendments to the bill tabled by former planning minister Bob Neill MP. These are mainly concerned with introducing a permission stage to all planning-related challenges so that they are consistent, but they also affect Planning Act judicial review deadlines.

The latest amendment paper is here and the relevant amendment is NC7. That amendment includes amendments to the Planning Act 2008 so that the judicial review challenge period is a day longer, and ends on the same day of the week as the decision being challenged was made. This is another rationalisation exercise so that all planning-related challenges, now all six weeks, are expressed in the same way and end on the same day. I don't think anyone would disagree with this, except possibly Abu Qatada.

Although the amendments are not government ones, I think they may well be accepted - we will know by the end of the committee stage on 1 April and I will pass this on.

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