Planning Law Survey: Barristers - Best of the bar

Planning's exclusive survey reveals which barristers are most admired by solicitors and planning and development professionals. Mark Wilding looks at who is topping the tables this year and why.

Long-time followers of the Planning Law Survey will recognise some familiar faces at the top of this year's tables. We again asked planning consultants, senior planning officers and developers for their nominations, alongside solicitors working for local authorities or in private practice. Consequently, the results show a large degree of consistency with last year.

Of our six tables shown in this article, three are headed by the 2016 winners and two more by barristers who were in second place last year. However, there have been several notable newcomers and fast risers. Among the new names are two of January's silk appointments - Andrew Tabachnik QC of 39 Essex Chambers and Matthew Reed QC of Landmark Chambers - who make their first appearance in our list of most admired QCs.

At the top of the silks table is Christopher Katkowski QC of Landmark Chambers, a favoured representative of developers at inquiries, claiming first place for the second year running. Narrowly behind Katkowski is Martin Kingston QC of No5 Chambers, who was also second last year after holding the top spot in 2015. Russell Harris QC of Landmark Chambers remains in third position. David Elvin QC of Landmark Chambers climbs two places to share fourth place with James Maurici QC, also of Landmark Chambers, up from joint 10th last year.

More dramatic changes have taken place just outside the top five. Hereward Phillpot QC, of Francis Taylor Building, rises from 17th place last year to sixth in 2017. One lawyer describes him as "one of the brightest planning silks around", while another offers his assessment of Phillpot as a "particularly good advocate", with an aptitude for development consent order (DCO) examination hearings. Here, he "very deftly handles curveballs from the panel of inspectors", the commentator says.

Click on the table below to enlarge. 

Richard Ground QC of Cornerstone Barristers and James Strachan QC of 39 Essex Chambers both also recorded meteoric rises, from their respective 37th and 48th rankings in 2016, to jointly occupy 17th place this year. Highlights of Strachan's year include acting for the government and High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd to promote the new rail link from London to Birmingham, and advising developer Quintain in relation to the Silvertown Tunnel DCO. Ground recently acted for Slough Borough Council to successfully oppose plans by developer Goodman Logistics Development to develop a 58-hectare strategic rail freight interchange in green belt near the A4.

Among the junior barristers, Christopher Young of No5 Chambers edged narrowly in front of Charles Banner of Landmark Chambers to claim first place. One planning solicitor describes Young, who came second in last year's survey, as "the leading junior barrister for housebuilders and strategic land promoters, both at inquiry and increasingly in court". Another commentator praises Young's aptitude for taking on "complex planning issues". Young's recent cases include representing a developers' consortium in its challenge to last December's written ministerial statement on neighbourhood planning and acting for land promoter Richborough Estates in the Supreme Court on a landmark case relating to the National Planning Policy Framework's five-year housing land supply requirement. Banner, meanwhile, is described by solicitors as "a real rising star of the planning bar" and "one of the best court advocates I've seen". He recently represented Persimmon Homes at a two-week public inquiry into a 188-home development on the edge of the historic town of Berkeley, Gloucestershire.


This year's table-topper in the under-35s rankings is Rebecca Clutten of Francis Taylor Building, who commentators describe as a "stellar performer" with a "grasp of complex issues and ability to handle data". She has acted for clients including National Grid and DONG Energy and recently represented a number of different objectors to HS2 before a parliamentary select committee. Other projects include her successful promotion of a residential-led regeneration scheme for 1,200 homes in Tower Hamlets.

Joint first place in the residential specialist category is claimed by Peter Village QC of 39 Essex Chambers and junior winner Christopher Young, who was second in the category last year. Of Village, one colleague states simply: "Housebuilders love him." Village also attracts praise for his commercial acumen, providing "forceful and robust advice" and "always ready to fight his client's corner". Earlier this year, Village represented Commercial Estates Group, where he is in-house counsel, in an appeal inquiry to help secure permission for 400 homes on greenfield land on the edge of Newbury, Berkshire.

Katkowski claims the top spot in the commercial and retail rankings. Notable cases in the last 12 months include his representation of developer Scotch Corner Richmond LLP on a large designer outlet scheme in North Yorkshire. Katkowski fought opposition to the project from Darlington Borough Council at a public inquiry in May 2016 to secure permission from the secretary of state.

Michael Humphries QC of Francis Taylor Building achieved victory in the infrastructure category. Voters describe Humphries as "the go-to planning silk on major infrastructure projects", adding that "his name is synonymous with the country's most high profile, complex infrastructure developments." Those projects include the £344 million expansion of London City Airport, on which Humphries successfully acted recently for the scheme promoters.

Fittingly, the holders of the two top spots in the overall rankings also claim pole position in two further specialist areas (see online coverage). Kingston, who in the last year has advised clients on a new settlement outside Leeds and major urban extensions in Birmingham and Harlow, is top choice for development plan examinations. Meanwhile, Katkowski holds on to the number one ranking in the appeals inquiry category.

The barristers' survey results are based on 301 responses from planning solicitors, planning consultants, planning officers, developers and council solicitors. All responses were checked to make sure they came from eligible groups.

Top Five Planning Silks


1. Christopher Katkowski Landmark Chambers

According to one leading planning solicitor, Katkowski "remains one of the first names on the list of QCs for any complex case". He is also described as "a brilliant advocate who has a very pragmatic and accessible style". Katkowski represented Cheshire East Council in the examination of its long-running local plan, which was given the green light by an inspector in December. He also acted for the council in an appeal to successfully fight off plans for 119 homes close to the Jodrell Bank observatory, securing the first government decision on protecting Jodrell Bank since the 1970s.

2. Martin Kingston No5 Chambers

Described by a leading solicitor as "the senior statesman of the courtroom and public inquiry", Kingston has kicked off 2017 with Supreme Court appearances including representing Richborough Estates on its five-year land supply legal challenge. Another commentator says Kingston is "the gold standard advocate and strategic thinker for really difficult cases", whose style is "charming, clear, concise, precise and calmly forceful". Notable cases include advising Isle of Anglesey Council on a new nuclear power station at Wylfa and the developers of an extension to the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. He has also appeared at High Speed Two petition hearings before the House of Lords committee.

3. Russell Harris Landmark Chambers

Harris is known as "a top-notch tenacious advocate", according to one planning solicitor, who says his strength is in providing "a clear, strategic overview of the strengths and weaknesses of a case". Another describes him as "highly effective, very commercial, utterly unpretentious". Harris advises on the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station and the Bishopsgate Goodsyard scheme on the City fringe. He also recently acted for developer Notting Hill Gate KCS on an appeal seeking permission to redevelop Newcombe House in west London, which would create one of the area's tallest buildings.

4=. David Elvin Landmark Chambers

One voter describes Elvin as "absolutely brilliant", "a joy to work with" and "simply one of the best out there". A solicitor who worked with him on a recent infrastructure case says he is "possibly the most intelligent QC that I've ever come across". His current cases include acting for the Northern Ireland Department of Infrastructure to defend a judicial review brought by Friends of the Earth in relation to dredging of sand from Lough Neagh.

4=. James Maurici Landmark Chambers

Maurici attracts praise for his ability to get to grips with "gnarly planning law and policy matters" and his ability to "combine knowledge, intellect and understanding of the legal and policy framework with an appreciation of commercial realities". He has been lead counsel to the Department for Transport on airport expansion since 2011 and recently successfully struck out a judicial review sought by Greenpeace and several London boroughs attempting to block a third runway at Heathrow. Other victories include acting for the Homes and Communities Agency on a 1,000-home development near Northampton.