Top project negotiator

Hogan Lovells partner Claire Dutch relishes her commercial role as the development industry gets to grips with another round of change in the planning rules.

Claire Dutch
Claire Dutch

For Claire Dutch, the fictitious Los Angeles law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak played a big part in her career choice. She was fascinated by the lawyers in the TV show LA Law and its take on the edgy issues of the late 1980s.

Dutch is now a partner at City law firm Hogan Lovells, with 15 years of experience in legal circles. "My first interest in law in general was swayed by LA Law," she confesses. "They used to strut around with their big shoulderpads. Watching that show made the law sound interesting."

After qualification, she specialised in planning, property and local government law as a trainee solicitor at Hertfordshire County Council. Since joining the Lovells planning team in 1999, she has taken on cases featuring all aspects of planning law.

Her career highlights include advising on mixed-use projects for developer Ballymore at sites including Nine Elms in Battersea, south London.

She has worked on Land Trust Developments' urban extension proposal featuring 10,500 houses, schools, district and local centres and strategic infrastructure at Ashton Park near Bristol, the Church Commissioners' urban extension in Carlisle and Peterborough Renewable Energy Ltd's energy park in Peterborough and energy-from-waste proposal at Sutton Bridge.

But perhaps her biggest scheme was advising Riverside Resource Recovery Ltd on the UK's largest energy-from-waste power station at Belvedere in south-east London. She was involved in co-ordinating 18 witnesses at a three-month inquiry in 2003 and a reopened inquiry in 2005.

This also involved drafting a major planning obligation that was submitted to the inspector.

Dutch's work is well-regarded by her peers. She is a member of the Law Society's planning and environmental law committee and the Oxford Joint Planning Law Conference committee. She was listed as a "leading individual" in last year's Chambers guide, which described her as "calm yet keen, an excellent negotiator and a lawyer who really fights her client's corner", and featured in The Lawyer's "Hot 100" this year.

"For me as a lawyer, there is contentious and non-contentious law, and planning is a good mix of both," she explains. "You can get big public inquiries and 'backroom' work." In the wake of this year's seismic shift in the political landscape, she expects a buzz of activity in both spheres.

Dutch notes that the select committee examining the abolition of regional spatial strategies has had an overwhelming response. "This is big news," she says. "Lots of local authorities are downing tools on their local development frameworks. It's created a lot of risk and uncertainty for developers."

She adds: "The capital is coping a lot better because it has the London Plan. We're certainly seeing more cranes than usual on the skyline and there are still big positives with the Olympics and Crossrail." She quietly dismisses the possibility of third party rights of appeal resurfacing. "That old chestnut has been around for years. I don't think we will ever see it happen," she predicts.

She is undecided on the benefits of the latest reforms. "The aims for the new system are laudable. Many had criticised the previous system as unnecessarily complicated, but things were starting to bed down. Some people are looking back with nostalgia at the old system, because now we have a limbo situation. The government needs to engage with the front line of the development industry."

For Dutch, the environment is a key concern. She welcomes the presumption in favour of sustainable development put forward by the coalition: "It's a good idea, but not a lot of people have picked up on it." She practises what she preaches, describing her home in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, as an eco-home. "We have solar panels, recycled rainwater flushes the toilet and our loft is lined with sheep's fleeces," she says.

Amid a hectic working life, Dutch likes to unwind in rare quiet moments. She cites the very English ritual of afternoon tea as one of her luxuries. "For me, it always has to be Earl Grey and a Bakewell tart. I love cakes too. People often ask me where the best places are. Claridge's and the Lanesborough Hotel are great."

With major changes brewing in the planning sector, the government's aspirations to simplify and speed up decisions won't be achieved overnight. Dutch and her colleagues can be sure that the casework will keep flowing, whether it's in the public eye or behind the scenes.

Age: 38
Family: Married with one daughter
Education: Law degree, University of Hull; legal practice course, York
College of Law
Interests: Family, afternoon tea, knitting
2007: Partner, Lovells
1999: Solicitor and of counsel, Lovell White Durrant
1997: Trainee solicitor, Hertfordshire County Council
1995: Legal assistant, Lord Chancellor's Department

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