First published in 1998, the annual Planning Law Survey helps planning and legal practitioners identify the solicitors, firms and barristers who are best equipped to deal with the legislation, regulation, policy and legal precedent that surround every development project or plan.
The 2015 survey was launched last month, when we emailed more than 1,300 solicitors in private and local government practice with known planning expertise. We also asked the leading planning chambers to circulate the survey among Planning and Environmental Bar Association members.
This year, we confined our search for nominations to planning solicitors, planning barristers and planning lawyers at local authorities. The results therefore constitute a genuine peer review of lawyers' views on the abilities of their professional counterparts.
Almost 100 solicitors, including 22 from local authorities, and 119 barristers responded to the survey online or by email. To ensure impartial results, we only counted responses received from individuals on our targeted mailout.
Although individual firms and lawyers move up and down year on year, the rankings show remarkable consistency over time. Landmark Chambers' Christopher Katkowski QC has been rated among the top three silks annually since 1999. This year's highest rated silk, Martin Kingston QC of No5 Chambers, has topped this table for three of the past four years.
Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) remains in the top three law firms after heading the table for the survey's first 16 years. Eversheds, second-placed for nine years in a row, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and Hogan Lovells have appeared in every top ten since 2000. But it is possible to rise through the ranks: Pinsent Masons, which retains the top slot it captured last year, first made the top ten in 2009.
King & Wood Mallesons partner Simon Ricketts, the highest rated planning solicitor for the sixth year running, and Hogan Lovells partner Michael Gallimore have appeared in the top six every year since 2002. BLP's Tim Smith and HSF's Matthew White have been ranked at least seventh in every survey since 2006.
This year, we also invited nominations for expertise in three key development fields - residential, commercial and infrastructure. The results (see tables, p21 and p27) draw out the niche expertise held by some law firms and individual counsel. Michael Humphries QC, rated outside the top ten overall but way ahead of the field for his infrastructure expertise, is a prime example.
For the first time, this year's survey asked barristers for details of the number of planning inquiry and court appearances they made in 2014. Fewer than half responded, and the raw data take no account of the length of proceedings. However, the results do show that around 40 barristers' inquiry appearances were in double figures last year, while ten made at least ten Planning Court appearances.
Jonathan Easton of Kings Chambers reports that he has noticed a clear increase in inquiry work in the last 18 months, especially in the housing sector. "There will remain a tension between the political drive to deliver more housing and the local desire to resist development, especially on greenfield sites," he says.
Richard Harwood QC of 39 Essex Chambers says there has certainly been an increase in planning litigation. He notes that the number of judicial review claims filed rose from around 150 in 2010 to 242 in 2013, while the number of planning cases handled by the High Court almost doubled between 2012 and 2014. Harwood says the Planning Court, set up last spring, has made a difference by establishing a specialist cadre of judges whose decisions are "sound and probably more defensible against challenge in the higher courts".
Finally, we received around 350 nominations for the best local authority planning lawyers. City of London comptroller Deborah Cluett, London Borough of Camden senior legal adviser Louise McLaughlan and New Forest District Council head of legal and democratic services Grainne O'Rourke emerged as the most widely respected figures.