The Law Survey 2013-2014

The past year has seen no let-up in legal activity in the planning sector. Solicitors and barristers with a planning specialism are in demand as the implications of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the Localism Act are tested through the courts.

Revised regulations on the Community Infrastructure Levy, major infrastructure projects, town and village greens and rights of way have also kept legal experts' in-trays full.

Many of the lawyers also point to an increase in judicial reviews in planning and environment cases. It may be that government action to cap claimants' costs, in response to criticisms that the UK was contravening the requirement of the European Aarhus Convention that access to environmental justice should be affordable, is fuelling the rise in judicial reviews.

Another reported source of growth in the legal sector is residential projects. Several solicitors and barristers report a rise in advisory work on planning applications for large urban extensions. New build housing remains a contentious issue locally and developers need legal advice.

The new process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) is also responsible for generating a significant workload for lawyers. These projects are inherently complex and have in several cases resulted in court action.

Judicial reviews on projects such as developer Halite Energy's underground gas storage facility in Lancashire and energy company EDF Energy's Hinkley Point C nuclear power station have kept some firms and barristers busy for months. Giant applications such as that for Thames Water's Tideway Tunnel and the High Speed Two rail link are major sources of work.

These are just some of the areas in which local authorities, developers and third parties needed legal advice in the past year. Our legal survey is intended to help clients find good sources of such advice by identifying the firms and individuals most highly rated by other planning lawyers and professional planners.

In January, we asked private and public sector solicitors, barristers and planning consultants to nominate solicitors and barristers whose work they felt exemplified best practice. We received our highest-ever number of responses from 478 individuals. These comprise 136 private sector solicitors, 162 barristers and 131 consultants. We also received 49 responses from solicitors working for local planning authorities.

Solicitors were not allowed to vote for their own practice, or individuals working for it, while barristers could vote for no more than three members of their own chambers. We weeded out almost 180 unsolicited responses, which suggest concerted canvassing on the part of some lawyers. But the votes that were counted have been checked as coming from individuals the magazine knows to be in a position to comment credibly.

From the results, we have once again produced rankings of solicitors' firms, individual solicitors, Queen's Counsel, junior barristers and juniors under 35. We have now been producing these rankings for many years, and you can read the results in the following pages.

As a new element of the survey this year, we have for the first time also ranked local authority legal departments according to respondents' rating of their ability to deal with their workload in an exemplary manner (see table).

London boroughs showed a strong performance in these rankings, taking seven of the top ten spots, with Westminster City Council's planning solicitors taking the top spot.

Numbers of votes for individual public sector solicitors were not sufficient to produce a full table. But Deborah Cluett, comptroller at the City of London Corporation, and Stuart Evans, head of environment, development and planning law at Birmingham City Council, were jointly the most mentioned. They were followed by Louise McLaughlan, senior legal adviser at the London Borough of Camden.

The returns also showed that Eversheds, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Michelmores and Pinsent Masons were the private sector law firms rated equal first by local authority planning solicitors, with DLA Piper, Ashfords and Wragge & Co coming second.

Mark Hynes, president of Lawyers in Local Government, says some London local authority planning solicitors have seen a rise in workload due to dealing with regeneration projects such as the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station, the Nine Elms area in Vauxhall and the Crossrail rail link. Elsewhere, councils have been kept busy by the furore around fracking, he says.

Catherine Early, supplement editor, Planning

Read the rest of the survey below:

Planning Law Survey 2013-14: Counsel of choice

Planning's exclusive survey reveals the sector's most admired barristers. More.

Planning Law Survey 2013-14: Trusted advisers

Our survey reveals the legal firms and individual solicitors who are most highly rated in the sector. More.