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Fast-track planning court threatens local democracy

4 February 2014

Fast-track planning court threatens local democracy Photo: © Shutterstock

Plans that would limit the ability of communities to challenge inappropriate developments in the countryside are expected to be unveiled tomorrow as part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

5 February update


Following publication of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill today , Shaun Spiers, said:

'We’re pleased that the Ministry of Justice has retracted its proposals to restrict judicial reviews to those with a financial interest. Undertaking a judicial review to challenge inappropriate development is a difficult and time-consuming process, often undertaken by volunteers at significant cost. It is only used as a last resort and always with a view to protecting the countryside for future generations. It’s reassuring to see that Government has decided to protect this right for communities. But these reforms overall will, in our view, still unjustifiably add to the already serious risk and expense that communities face in seeking to hold abuses of the planning system to account.'

4 February
Reports today suggest new measures will mean only those with a financial interest in a case can bring a challenge, which would put an end to challenges by individuals and campaigners acting in the public interest.

Ministers claim the reforms will lower the burden on courts, but only 1.5% of judicial review applications were related to planning cases, less than 200 [1].

CPRE welcomes more planning expertise in the courts, as well as quicker procedures, but these should not come at the expense of local communities losing the right to challenge bad decisions.

CPRE’s Chief Executive, Shaun Spiers, said:

‘Judicial review is a crucial democratic safeguard against abuses of power or process. In planning, it is used by communities and campaigning groups with great reluctance and as a last resort. It is costly, time-consuming and stressful – but often the only way to get justice by getting bad developments dropped or at least significantly improved.

‘When CPRE and people like us seek to challenge bad decisions - and we do so only very rarely - it is so that we can protect the countryside for future generations, not because of some financial interest.

‘The Government should think again about reforms that would limit the right to challenge developers and landowners, and recognise that the public interest can be as important as any sectional financial interests. If the Government removes safeguards for local groups to have their costs limited, developers could win every time.

‘This is an interesting curtain raiser to next year’s 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the Great Charter of the Liberties of England. I dread to think what other celebrations the Government has in store.’

Notes to Editors

[1] According to legalweek.com (article dated 19 July 2013), the number of judicial review applications has been steadily increasing in recent years: from 6,692 in 2007 to 11,359 in 2011. The vast majority of these – 8,649 cases - are related to immigration rather than planning which accounted for just 191 in 2011.

Although planning-related judicial reviews have increased, it should be emphasised that planning cases still represent only a very small proportion of the total number of claims annually.

 

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