19 November 2012: The Prime Minister wants to cut down communities’ last legal defence against damaging infrastructure plans.
Today at the CBI conference, the Prime Minister gave an astonishing speech outlining a range of ways to clamp down on opposition to infrastructure projects, including roads. Watch the video here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20391781
Saying the Government’s ambition was "to cut the time it takes to upgrade our roads in half", David Cameron’s speech set out how they would reduce the length and number of consultations and assessments projects need before getting the green light, and abolish some assessments completely.
He said: "When we came to power there had to be a three month consultation on everything and I mean everything, no matter how big or small. So we are saying to Ministers: here's a revolutionary idea you decide how long a consultation period this actually needs. If you can get it done properly in a fortnight, great… And we are going further, saying: if there is no need for a consultation, then don’t have one."
Speaking to the largest road building lobby in the UK, Cameron launched a particularly fierce attack on ‘noisy lobby groups’ and the process of judicial review – the very last point of legal redress local communities have against a bad planning decision.
Here he said he would "Charge more for reviews so people think twice about time-wasting" and said the government would also reduce the time limit to challenge a decision and cut the number of possible appeals from four to two.
The most famous recent example of a successful judicial review was brought by Virgin Trains against the West Coast Main Line franchise decision, which exposed serious mistakes in calculations carried out within the Department for Transport.
Supposedly aimed at 'time wasters', this new policy will instead make judicial review the preserve of only the very rich who can put teams of lawyers into preparing a case rapidly and bear the increased costs. Local community campaigners - who already struggle to raise the thousands of pounds needed to bring a case under the current regime - will be shut out of the process completely.
Another worrying aspect of this plan is that judicial review only succeeds where the judge can see that a decision is irrational or unfairly made. So these announcements appear to be aimed at bringing forward a wave of badly thought out, irrational and unfair decisions to build new roads in local areas that don’t want or need them, with only the Richard Bransons of the world in a position to challenge this.
As our Chief Executive Stephen Joseph said today: "Excluding all but the wealthy from decision-making while spending a fortune on clogging new roads with cars will not help the economy but it will stir up a hornets’ nest of opposition."
Judicial review is already an expensive and daunting prospect, and a court case is only ever a last resort in the campaign to stop a road scheme. That’s why our Roads to Nowhere campaign is highlighting at the earliest possible stage the threat of new road schemes across the country.
With many better alternatives possible, our campaigners will help and support local communities in getting damaging, traffic-inducing, self-defeating road projects off the drawing board long before legal measures become necessary.