Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the CBI conference in London. Stefan Rousseau/PA

Cameron announces new planning measures

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
6.30 AM

It was only recently the government introduced its National Planning Policy Framework in a bid to cut the red-tape developers have to deal with.

But in his speech to the CBI yesterday the prime minister announced further changes which could have far-reaching affects for big development projects.

When we were at war with Hitler we needed urgency, he explained, and that meant “normal rules were circumvented”. Now we are at war with recession the same goes, said Mr Cameron.

In terms of planning, more urgency means reining in judicial reviews; specifically the public’s ability to employ them to slow down development.

Currently a person can appeal an official decision four times, this will be cut to two. The amount of time after a decision being taken in which a judicial review can be launched will be shortened and application fees increased.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England was not impressed. Chief executive Shaun Spiers said: “Judicial review is a vital safeguard against poor quality decision-making.

“It helps prevent the sort of developments that degrade the environment and, in the long run, undermine the economy.”

From the wording of Mr Cameron’s speech it seems he might not even challenge the contention that his new measures could weaken people’s ability to fight planning decisions. Instead he argues it is currently too easy for people to hold things up.

So if a slight weakening of the excessively robust mechanism to block decisions is necessary to stimulate growth at such a moment of national emergency, his thinking goes, so be it.

But others question whether weakening the judicial review system will stimulate the economy. Adam Chapman of solicitors Kingsley Napley said judicial reviews were “a peculiar target” for a government looking to boost growth.

“It is a myth that judicial review is stopping the government from proceeding with policies to help boost the economy,” he said.

“Although there has been significant growth in the number of judicial review cases brought, the increase has been in cases about immigration and asylum - it’s nothing to do with stopping the government from taking steps to assist business.”

Even if one accepts that judicial review reform could boost growth, the question arises as to why the government didn’t tackle the issue when it released its planning policy framework earlier this year.

The UK’s economic situation is arguably no worse now than when the government released the paper. So what has changed since to merit further tinkering?

Certainly not the rate of economic growth. In fact it is the stagnation of the economy, apart from the little jump provided by the Olympics, that has shaken the prime minister into his “war-footing”.

But all great generals know wars can’t be won without popular backing and so the question is whether people will accept Mr Cameron’s “emergency measures”.

What, for example, will people like those campaigning against the King’s Lynn incinerator think? They have twice employed judicial review to challenge the waste plant near Saddlebow. Many will be Tory voters.

Indeed, some of Mr Cameron’s MPs, whose constituencies can be won or lost on planning issues, will also feel nervous after his speech.

After all, it does not look good to go around preaching about “localism” only to then circumvent the “normal rules” that protect it.