David Cameron has drawn criticism for promising a crackdown on “time-wasting” legal challenges halting controversial developments.
The Prime Minister argues slow decision-making is holding back the British economy, but critics warn that restricting the right to protest is undemocratic.
Housing schemes, wind farms and waste incinerators have been delayed across the Westcountry as a result of residents taking legal action against local authority decisions.
Among the most high-profile legal battles has been the campaign against the £117 million St Dennis incinerator in the heart of Cornwall, which appeared to end in July when protesters were refused leave to take the case to the Supreme Court.
Major changes to the planning process will mean residents opposed to big building projects will find their right to protest dramatically curtailed.
The cost of making a planning complaint will increase and critics will see the time limit for bringing a case reduced in an attempt to fast track infrastructure projects and kickstart the economy.
The number of appeals that can be brought over a project will be halved from four to two in an effort to dissuade people from resisting building plans.
In a keynote speech at the CBI annual conference, Mr Cameron said: “This is a massive growth industry in Britain today.
“Back in 1998 there were four-and-a-half thousand applications for review and that number almost tripled in a decade. Of course, some are well-founded – as we saw with the West Coast mainline decision. But let’s face it: so many are completely pointless.”
Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The system is already stacked against local people trying to protect the areas they love.
“Judicial review is already very expensive and time-consuming. Putting this option further out of reach for many people will only make it even harder for local people to take a democratic role in planning decisions where they live.”
Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell and Newquay, whose constituency includes the proposed incinerator, said: “The Prime Minister is right to say that it’s important that decisions are taken in a timely way and that time-consuming challenges are reduced as far as possible.
“But it’s equally important that any decision making framework delivers the right choice for the long-term.
“When decisions are manifestly wrong, like in the case of the proposed incinerator in St Dennis, it’s vital that communities are still able to mount a challenge.
“It’s clearly a difficult balance to strike and we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath-water.”
Mike Hulme led the campaign that forced approved plans for nine 394ft turbines on the Den Brook Valley, near North Tawton in West Devon, to judicial review.
The turbines are still to be erected three years after being given planning permission as a result of noise pollution restrictions.
Mr Hulme said: “Judicial review allows the average person to challenge decisions – even then it is difficult. My first High Court case cost £80,000, which is beyond me and most people.”
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