Lawyers concerned bill will stall system

Leading planning lawyers voiced concern this week that measures in the planning reform bill could lead to a slower planning process.

Government plans to create an infrastructure planning commission (IPC) to determine major projects were confirmed this week in the Queen's speech.

Lovells head of planning Michael Gallimore said the white paper flagged up the opportunity to challenge the procedure in the High Court at various stages.

"We are in a system that encourages consultation. The Human Rights Act 1998 provides the right to be heard and we have a sophisticated system of regulations from Europe that all need to be enshrined and protected in the new system," he said.

He added that the reforms are clearly related to the government's agenda on energy and the ongoing debate over nuclear power.

DLA Piper planning partner Howard Bassford agreed that the reforms could provide more opportunity for court cases. "If people do not feel that they have had a fair crack of the whip in the process, they may be more likely to challenge," he warned.

Norton Rose head of planning Nigel Hewitson noted that apart from Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, there are few examples of major projects being held up for a long time. The Olympic Park has been delivered very quickly using the existing system, he pointed out.

Meanwhile, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which claims that the bill "looks like being a developer's charter", has been holding talks with a number of backbench Labour MPs who are apprehensive of the IPC proposals. Planning campaigner Paul Miner said the group will also have further meetings with its Planning Disaster partners.

The concerns come after former housing and planning minister Keith Hill said he would lobby against the IPC (Planning, 2 November, p1).

The RTPI said if the commission is to be created then community engagement must be ensured. It added that this could be done through Planning Aid.

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