Process cross-examiner

Leading planning silk Peter Village QC brings his forthright pursuit of winning decision-makers to his cause to a landmark legal battle that questions ministerial policy.

Peter Village QC
Peter Village QC

The legal challenge by CALA Homes to secretary of state Eric Pickles's revocation of regional strategies has stimulated widespread interest among planners and developers everywhere.

Acting for the developer is Peter Village QC, a barrister who has many years' experience of planning matters.

The CALA Homes litigation is just one of a clutch of high-profile cases on which the 4-5 Gray's Inn Square silk is currently working. "Frankly, things are always at full throttle,"

he admits, only too pleased to have the opportunity to be involved in so many important and interesting issues. "It's obviously very nice to think that people want to use my services."

Village began his career in other areas of the law. Finding company law too dull and crime too violent, he turned his hand to planning. While this stemmed partly from an enjoyment of the built environment, the big attraction was an interest in advocacy.

"I'm first and foremost known as an advocate and it's a fundamental aspect of planning law," he explains. "I enjoy trying to persuade people of the correctness of the cause that I am fighting."

Variety is another attraction. "Like most barristers, I turn my hand to any aspect of work I'm asked to within my field of competence," he says. "I think I recognise, and have recognised for years, the importance of advocacy. The art of cross-examination is central to that."

He teaches advocacy to young practitioners at the Inner Temple, which he finds very rewarding. "There's no substitute for practice. I would say I learn something every day myself, even after almost 30 years at the bar."

Naturally, Village has been closely following the coalition government's emerging ideas for reform of the planning system. He has great misgivings about certain aspects of the proposals set out in the Conservatives' Open Source Planning paper. He points out that while a green paper is by definition a consultation document, the party has not sought people's views on it.

"Like all practitioners, I am concerned by the direction in which the government is going," he explains. "Open Source Planning is seeking to have a flexible planning system and that is undoubtedly a very good thing. Anyone who has spent any time in the planning industry knows that it is essential to have flexibility in the way in which one approaches development and land use."

However, he is deeply concerned as to whether or not the government will succeed in its aim. In his view, the most detrimental aspect of the document is its attempt to curtail the right of appeal to the very limited grounds that the correct procedure has not been followed or that the decision reached contravenes the local plan. This formula would take no account of other material considerations, he warns.

"Limiting the right of appeal will substantially limit the flexibility of the planning system to deal with changes of circumstances and remove the opportunity to look at the other considerations which sometimes weigh in favour of development, rather than what's in the local plan. If you remove the statutory right of appeal, the only way of appealing a decision will be through judicial review."

He also takes issue with the way Open Source Planning appears to erode the role of the Planning Inspectorate, which he argues is made up of extremely well-qualified people who are expert at what they do.

"The challenge for the government is to consult widely before it embarks on a fundamental review of the planning process," he stresses. "All right-minded people want to see a sufficient supply of houses. I question whether this approach will achieve that goal."

The government's localism agenda is another concern. Village is worried that the system being brought forward will not allow for arbitration between different voices. "It is at best an experiment," he says. "At a time when the development industry is at a low ebb, it is potentially a dangerous experiment. It remains to be seen whether or not it will succeed."

The current policy vacuum needs to be resolved quickly, he insists: "Until the gap is filled it will make development much more difficult than it otherwise would be." He hopes that the forthcoming localism bill will answer some questions about how the new system will function.

"We all wait with bated breath as to what is going to be included and until we see the detail it's very difficult to say how it will work," he says. "Many people harbour doubts about it and I harbour grave reservations. But until we see what's in the bill it's going to be impossible to make a judgement."

CV

Age: 49

Family: Married with three children

Education: LLB, University of Leeds; Inns of Court School of Law

Interests: Fishing, walking, skiing, looking after his dog

2002: Appointed Queen's Counsel

1986: Barrister, 4-5 Gray's Inn Square

1983: Called to the bar


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