Two changes to the judicial review system are likely to affect the planning process for new development.

  1. Six week challenge period for planning judicial review claims: From 1 July 2013, the time limits for bringing a judicial review challenge against a planning decision will be shortened to six weeks (instead of three months), in line with the statutory appeal process. The shorter time limit of six weeks means that developers will not have to wait so long for the challenge period to expire before starting work on site, but this reduced time period may encourage meritless claims submitted very quickly, which could delay progress on development projects.
  2. Cap on costs for some planning claims: There have also been changes to the court rules on costs, so that since 1 April 2013 organisations and individuals have been able to challenge certain planning decisions without the risk of having to pay significant costs (new limits to costs apply: £5,000 for individual claimants and £10,000 for organisations). This could mean that more rival developers, NGOs and smaller organisations bring challenges to planning decisions because their costs will be capped, so they may be more willing to take the risk of bringing such a challenge in order to delay the planning process.

These reforms aim to streamline the challenge process but they have yet to be tested in practice and it is not known whether the combined effect of the shortened time period and the capped costs will increase or reduce the number of challenges to planning decisions. The government has announced that the reforms are part of an ongoing process and that next it wishes to focus on the judicial review procedure for major housing and infrastructure projects – further details are expected over the summer 2013.

How it works:

Six week challenge period for planning judicial review claims

A judicial review claim can be used to challenge the grant or refusal of planning permissions, listed building or scheduled monument consent, or decisions by the Secretary of State to call-in an application. Currently such a challenge must be brought 'promptly and in any event not later than three months after the grounds to make the claim first arose'. However, the new changes coming into effect on 1 July 2013 amend the court rules so that the claim must be filed within six weeks, which is consistent with the statutory right to challenge under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (section 288). The amendment will only apply to a judicial review of decisions made after 1 July 2013.

Cap on costs for some planning claims

Usually in a judicial review challenge, the standard position is that the unsuccessful party will pay the costs of the successful party, subject to the court's discretion. However, the new court rules limit these costs to make the process fairer by ensuring that bringing a judicial review claim is not prohibitively expensive (in line with the international Aarhus Convention).

Since 1 April 2013, the new limits on costs apply to challenges to planning decisions to which the Aarhus Convention applies (projects which include 'environmental information', including most decisions on whether to grant planning permission or other planning and heritage consents). The new rules limit the liability of a claimant in relation to the defendant's costs to £5,000 (for an individual) or £10,000 (for an organisation).