The Planning Court will come into existence on 6th April 2014 and some of the detail of its operation is now known. For the most part the procedures for claims will remain those under the Civil Procedure Rules for judicial review (CPR 54), statutory applications (CPR 8) and statutory appeals (CPR 52). What is distinctive so far is the introduction of tight timetables for the consideration of important cases.
The Planning Court
Planning Court claims will form a specialist list within the Queen’s Bench Division.1 To what extent the running of the Planning Court will be separate from the Administrative Court remains to be seen.2 Planning Court claims will be issued in the Administrative Court Office, either in the Royal Courts of Justice or one of its regional/national centres: Practice Direction 54E, paragraph 2.1. the Court is an evolution of the Planning Fast Track which was introduced into the Administrative Court in July 2013. The aim of the Fast Track was to ensure that important planning cases were heard quickly before specialist judges.3
There will be a Planning Liaison Judge in charge of the Planning Court specialist list.4 Mr Justice Lindblom was appointed as the Planning Liaison Judge for the Planning Fast Track and it may well be that he will be the judge for the Planning Court.
The new CPR 54.21(2) sets the jurisdiction of the Planning Court by defining a ‘Planning Court claim’ as: “a judicial review or statutory challenge which — (a)involves any of the following matters — (i)planning permission, other development consents, the enforcement of planning control and the enforcement of other statutory schemes; (ii)applications under the Transport and Works Act 1992; (iii)wayleaves; (iv)highways and other rights of way; (v)compulsory purchase orders;
1 CPR 54.22(1) inserted by the Civil Procedure (Amendment No.3) Rules 2014, rule 3.
2 The Planning Court will at least have its own letterhead: Explanatory Memorandum to the Civil Procedure (Amendment No.3) Rules 2014 para 9.1.
3 For a discussion of the evolution of the Planning Court proposals see The High Court’s new Planning Court by Richard Harwood QC (February 2014) http://www.39essex.com/resources/article_listing.php?catid=5
4 CPR 54.22(2).
(vi)village greens; (vii)European Union environmental legislation and domestic transpositions, including assessments for development consents, habitats, waste and pollution control; (viii)national, regional or other planning policy documents, statutory or otherwise; or (ix)any other matter the judge appointed under rule 54.22(2); and (b)has been issued or transferred to the Planning Court.”
As expected the Planning Court has jurisdiction over certain judicial reviews. Statutory challenges are not defined in the Civil Procedure Rules, and the express appears to be new to the CPR. It would include applications to the High Court to challenge the validity of various decisions, actions or orders and appeals which challenge validity, such as appeals under section 289 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 against enforcement notice appeal decisions. Open for debate is whether it includes civil or criminal appeals by way of case stated or a judicial review of a criminal case. The Planning Court’s jurisdiction would not extend to other civil proceedings which collaterally raise matters within these topics. Planning injunctions (under section 187B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) will be outside its remit.
The Court will cover a wide range of topics, reflecting the traditional compass of the Planning Bar, including highways, compulsory purchase and village greens. The approach to environmental law is interesting. The Planning Court will deal with European Union environmental law and its domestic transpositions but does not automatically have jurisdiction over purely domestic environmental law. So a challenge to an environmental permit for a waste or Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control installation which falls in part under European law is within the remit, but a purely domestic environmental permit matter is not. Statutory nuisance proceedings are not automatically for the Planning Court.
It appears to be intended that the Planning Liaison Judge will be able to transfer other cases to the Planning Court, but sub-paragraph (ix) has been mangled in drafting: ‘any other matter the judge appointed under rule 54.22(2)’ does not make any sense.
A Planning Court claim will only be one which has been issued in or transferred to the Planning Court.5 The Practice Direction requires Planning Court claims to be issued or lodged in the Administrative Court Office and marked by the claimant as ‘Planning Court’, but it does not in terms say that any case within the category must be a Planning Court claim. It would make sense to bring such cases in the Planning Court to make use of the expertise which should be available.
Significant cases and timetabling
The Planning Liaison Judge will be able to categorise Planning Court claims as ‘significant’: Practice Direction 54E, para 3.1. It may be that this can be done by class as well as individually. According to the Practice Direction, significant Planning Court claims include claims which:
5 CPR 54.21(2)(b).
“a) relate to commercial, residential, or other developments which have significant economic impact either at a local level or beyond their immediate locality;
b) raise important points of law;
c) generate significant public interest; or
d) by virtue of the volume or nature of technical material, are best dealt with by judges with significant experience of handling such matters.”
Parties may make representations as to whether a matter should be characterised as significant on issuing the claim or lodging an acknowledgment of service. One implication of being identified as significant is that the case should come before a specialist judge. The other implication is the time for the handling of the case. By paragraph 3.4 of the Practice Direction target timescales for hearing significant cases are:
“a) applications for permission to apply for judicial review are to be determined within three weeks of the expiry of the time limit for filing of the acknowledgment of service;
b) oral renewals of applications for permission to apply for judicial review are to be heard within one month of receipt of request for renewal;
c) applications for permission under section 289 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 are to be determined within one month of issue;
d) substantive statutory applications, including applications under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, are to be heard within six months of issue; and
e) judicial reviews are to be heard within ten weeks of the expiry of the period for the submission of detailed grounds by the defendant or any other party as provided in Rule 54.14.”
The Planning Liaison Judge will be able to direct the expedition of any Planning Court claim if it is necessary to deal with the case justly.6
The target timescales are subject to the overriding objective of the interests of justice but the parties should be prepared to meet them. Target timescales are already being used in the Planning Fast Track and are being enforced quite rigorously. In London & Henley (Middle Brook Street) Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  EWHC 4207 (Admin) Mr Justice Lindblom agreed to the adjournment of a two day substantive hearing of a compulsory purchase order challenge in ‘truly exceptional circumstances’ on the basis that it was effectively settled. He emphasised the loss of court time which had been caused by the late adjournment and took (para 17):
“this opportunity to remind parties in proceedings such as these of the new targets for planning cases in the Administrative Court, which have been published on its website, and in particular the guidance given on listing. The guidance makes it clear that parties will be consulted before substantive hearings are listed, but - and this is important for parties to note - listing will respect the general timetable and targets. Dates may be imposed and counsel's availability will not be a reason for hearing a case significantly outside the target timetable.”
Summary grounds of resistance
6 Practice Direction 54E, paragraph 3.6.
At present the procedural rules for claims within the Planning Court are not changed from those which presently operate in the Administrative Court. There are good arguments for any Planning Court innovations (such as shorter skeleton deadlines) being applied across the Administrative Court and a common approach to rules would be more helpful that not. One change is contained in the Practice Direction:7
“The Planning Court may make case management directions, including a direction to any party intending to contest the claim to file and serve a summary of his grounds for doing so.”
The ability to require summary grounds is important. At present there is no obligation upon defendants in statutory applications or appeals (such as under section 288) to disclose their case until they file their skeleton submissions. Whilst any evidence should be filed at an early stage, it will rarely be necessary for the Secretary of State to produce evidence as he is simply defending the Minister or Inspector’s reasoned decision. Consequently other parties will not know the case they have to meet until the last moment and there is a real danger that the government does not consider the merits of a challenge properly at an early stage. Summary grounds are essential to enable the Court to properly consider whether permission to apply (under the proposed section 288 amendments, discussed below) or to appeal against enforcement notices should be granted. An attempt by the Administrative Court to introduce summary grounds of resistance into section 288 applications by handing down a judgment was rejected by the Court of Appeal in Bovale Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  EWCA Civ 171,  1 W.L.R. 2274 who said that a formal practice direction was required. This has now happened.
One objective of government is for the Planning Court to be staffed by specialist judges. At present a large number of High Court judges are able to sit in the Administrative Court, along with circuit judges, recorders and others as deputy High Court judges. The result has been that few planning cases have been before specialist judges. There are a handful of High Court judges and a smaller number of circuit judges with real planning expertise from their former legal practices. The expertise has not been built up sufficiently by sitting. In 2012 around 40 judges heard 120 substantive planning cases in the Administrative Court, most hearing only one case each.8 Planning expertise in the judiciary will have to rely in large part upon practitioners sitting as deputies. That requires appropriate budget allowances to be made. In part this may come from switching the fees which recorders would have been paid for sitting in the Crown or County Courts to the Planning Court and so be a matter of accounting rather than real expense. Whilst the sums involved are small (fees for judges being in the order of hundreds of pounds a day), the issue is important. Unless the Planning Court judges are seen to have genuine planning expertise, their decisions will not be seen as predictable nor widely followed. They are more likely to be appealed, slowing down progress for all parties.
Permission to apply under section 288
7 Practice Direction 54E, paragraph 3.5.
8 Judicial Review: Proposals for further reform (Ministry of Justice, September 2013), para 39 citing indicative management information from the Administrative Court. The paper describes these as ‘High Court judges’ but appears to include deputies.
There has been debate for a long time as to whether a permission stage should be introduced in section 288 applications challenging planning appeal or call in decisions. Presently those applications go straight to a final hearing. That has the virtue of speed but does mean that some unarguable cases reach full hearings. The Lord Chancellor is proposing that permission is required to bring section 288 cases in England. The statutory mechanics of the proposed changes are contained in clause 57 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. These would amend section 288 in England to require the leave of the High Court for a section 288 application to be made. A permission stage will be effective provided that it is operated quickly and proportionately. Section 288 substantive hearings do not usually take longer than a day, so lengthy permission hearings should be discouraged. There is also an unresolved question whether appeals to the Court of Appeal against the refusal of permission to apply should be allowed. Such appeals are not allowed in section 289 enforcement cases but are permitted in judicial review. This has been an important safeguard in judicial review. There are plenty of cases where permission to apply for judicial review was refused in the High Court, granted in the Court of Appeal and the claim was ultimately successful.
Other proposed changes
A series of further changes to primary legislation on Planning Court challenges are being considered by the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Communities and Local Government. Amendments were tabled at the Public Bill Committee stage by Bob Neill MP to address the following points:9
(i) Extending the requirement for leave to the other means of High Court challenge under planning legislation: listed building consent (section 63, Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990); development plans (section 113, Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004), hazardous substances consent (section 22, Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990) and the remaining orders which can be challenged under section 287 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This would particularly avoid the anomaly that if a scheme receives planning permission and listed building consent on appeal then the section 288 challenge would need leave but the listed building challenge could proceed to a substantive hearing regardless;
(ii) At present, challenges to the award of costs in planning appeals and call-ins have to be brought by judicial review: Botton v Secretary of State for the Environment  1 PLR 1 even if there is a section 288 application being brought at the same time. An amendment is designed to enable those proceedings to be brought under section 288;
(iii) A set of amendments would make a series of alterations to the procedure for High Court challenges to enforcement appeal decisions:
(a) It applies a general standing test of person aggrieved, matching section 288, and ending the current position whereby appellants, local planning authorities and
9 New Clauses 1 to 8. Discussed on 27th March 2014 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmpublic/criminaljustice/140327/pm/140327s01.htm
persons interested in the land have to challenge under section 289 and other persons use judicial review: e.g. R(Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  EWHC 3238 (Admin);
(b) The challenge may include any grant of planning permission, consent or lawful development certificate, avoiding the need to commence section 288 and 289 proceedings to challenge the grant of planning permission or an LDC in an enforcement notice appeal and similar duplication in listed building cases: R(Wandsworth London Borough Council) v Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions  EWHC 622 (Admin),  P. & C.R. 32. At present confusion is caused and multiple proceedings are brought in such cases;
(c) The proceedings are changed from an appeal to an application. That simplifies the procedures as section 288 claims are applications made under Part 8 of the CPR, and section 289 claims are appeals brought under Part 52 of the CPR. These involve a range of different forms and requirements. Since the Planning Court is intended to speed up processes, and both claims would be subject to a requirement for leave from the Court, there is no good reason for different procedures;
(d) References to requirements on the Secretary of State to state a case are removed as (a) no court rules provide for this in any event and (b) there is no need for the minister to be asked to state a case as reasons have to be given for any decision, so a potential challenger will know the basis of the decision;
(e) The ability of the Secretary of State to state any question of law arising in the course of an enforcement notice appeal would be removed as it is redundant. I have not come across that ever being used.
(iv) Partial quashing orders would be allowed under section 288. This would be particularly useful if there was an error in a condition, such as an unlawful tailpiece, which at present would lead to the quashing of the whole permission;
(v) The starting point for the six week challenge periods would be rationalised, to begin the day after the decision (as with section 288 and judicial review) rather than some including the day of the decision. Challenge periods would then run from Tuesday to Tuesday, rather than Monday to Monday.
Ministers have agreed to give careful consideration to these proposals. Reform may even be able to go wider. In his 1989 report Enforcing Planning Control Robert Carnwath QC suggested that the separate regimes for challenging planning appeal and enforcement notice appeal decisions should be merged into a single provision. 25 years later, it could happen.