Lawyers query end of Crown immunity

The government will retain enormous power over its own developments despite incoming provisions ending Crown immunity, lawyers warned this week.

The section of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act that ends the Crown's historic immunity from planning control is due to come into force at the weekend. In most cases it will compel the Crown to apply for permission in the same way as other organisations and individuals. But schemes that are deemed to be urgent or a matter of security can be submitted straight to the secretary of state.

Law firm Wedlake Bell insisted that potentially unpopular plans such as asylum-seeker accommodation centres could be pushed through without independent assessment.

"This act still leaves central government with enormous power over its own developments," planning lawyer Susan Hawker claimed. "This is hardly conducive to the open and inclusive planning system the act aims to create."

Pat Thomas, a partner at SJ Berwin, said it is understandable that some schemes bypass local authorities for security or emergency reasons. "Under the foot-and-mouth crisis the government had to dig huge pits in which to bury carcasses and did not have time to follow statutory procedures," she recalled.

If the government wants to push through its own applications it would not have removed Crown immunity, added Thomas. An ODPM spokesman said: "Most government departments put in planning applications anyway. This is just tightening up the legislation and will ensure that things are done transparently."

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