The court, a subdivision of the Administrative Court, came into being on 6 April following a consultation on speeding up judicial review. The idea was that, by creating a separate queue from the bulk of cases (mainly concerning immigration and asylum), planning cases would take less time.
Before the Planning Court was set up, a planning fast track was introduced in July 2013 to establish target times for various stages of the process, and I understand that this has been carried over by the Planning Court.
The court has been in operation for just over six months. Is it making a difference? I have trawled through the reported cases since 6 April, and I can find 38 that concern planning. Only 17 of these are reported as being before the Planning Court, however, so either my interpretation of a planning case differs from the High Court’s, or they aren’t being reported correctly. The figure compares with 69 cases for the same period last year. This leads me to unscientific conclusion number one: that there are fewer planning cases reaching the courts.
Most case reports say when the decision being challenged was taken, and so one can see whether the time between the decision and the judgment is decreasing. Comparing the average time from the same period last year, it has fallen from 443 days to 260 days. Unscientific conclusion number two: the planning fast track and Planning Court are speeding up cases.
Finally, what is happening to the ratio of successful cases? From April to October 2013, 27 of the 69 cases were successful, at least in part, and for the same period in 2014, it was ten out of 38, a fall from 39 per cent to 26 per cent. Unscientific conclusion number three: fewer cases are succeeding under the new regime.
Based on a small sample and a fairly rough-and-ready spreadsheet, then, the Planning Court – and the planning fast track – seem to have been making a difference in the short time that they have been in existence. Hardly any cases have spent their entire duration in the Planning Court, however, because in all but a couple of very recent cases proceedings were brought before 6 April 2013. It will therefore take some time before the true picture emerges.
Once a case has left the Planning Court it slows right down again if it goes to the Court of Appeal. One case in infrastructure planning – specifically the decision to grant development consent for the Rookery South energy from waste project – was determined in the High Court on 6 February, but will not be considered by the Court of Appeal until January next year. Here, just as when you’re decorating part of a room, making improvements in one area shows up the shortcomings of the others.
Angus Walker is a partner at Bircham Dyson Bell. He blogs on infrastructure planning at bdb-law.co.uk/our-insights