Prime minister seeks to cut down on the use of judicial reviews to hold up projects.
Major project experts have expressed doubts about prime minister David Cameron’s pledge to halve the time it takes to get road and rail projects built by tackling the judicial review process.
Former Arup director of rail Mark Bostock said that plans to accelerate projects by limiting the number of judicial reviews they could face was the wrong way to stop their use as a delaying tactic.
Cameron told employers’ body the CBI’s annual conference that he wanted to cut the number of times a scheme could face a judicial review from four to two (see box).
He also said he would abolish the mandatory three month consultation period for new government policies.
“Consultations, impact assessments, audits, reviews, stakeholder management, securing professional buy-in, complying with European Union procurement rules, assessing sector feedback; this is not how we became one of the most powerful, prosperous nations on Earth,” said Cameron.
“It’s not how you get things done.”
Tackle causes of delay
But Bostock said the prime minister should tackle the causes of opposition to projects, rather than the judicial review system.
“If the government process is right then there is no reason for a judicial review,” said Bostock.
Bostock is currently engaged in a legal challenge against High Speed 2 (HS2).
His challenge claims that not all route options have been properly assessed. He said the judicial review had arisen because there was a failure to consult fully on alternative route options.
“On High Speed 1 there was no judicial review because we got the route right from the beginning,” said Bostock.
Law firm Bird & Bird partner Andrew Renton agreed that it was during the consultation that opportunities for these reviews should be “sieved out”.
“The answer is in the early stage of planning to methodically identify areas that can be raised as objections and only allow those areas [to be challenged],” he said.
But law firm SJ Berwin partner Simon Ricketts said there was room to streamline the judicial review process; explaining that the current system, which allows four reviews, was to allow an issue to be seen by a judge, a judge with a hearing, a court of appeal judge, and a court of appeal judge with a hearing.
“There must be a way of reducing this without [claimants being] denied access to justice,” he added.
However, Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca) director of external affairs Alasdair Reisner said he “fully welcomed” the planned limit on judicial reviews.
“The number of schemes in recent years that have been held up by the will of a small group of people when it could provide benefits to many is appalling,” he said.
He cited the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route - a 45km bypass which was finally given the go-ahead last month after a lengthy legal process as a “classic case” where a judicial review had been used as a delaying tactic.
“The scheme was going to go ahead three or four years ago but the judicial reviews have blocked and blocked it,” he added.
But he warned any limitation should not result in a return of the 1980s where the impact of developments on local communities was largely ignored.
It was confirmed that the Ministry of Justice will lead a consultation into the plans.
Top of Cameron’s priority list is to cut back on the number of judicial reviews carried out each year.
He said the number of judicial reviews tackled annually had almost tripled from 4,500 in 1998. He is concerned that this, along with other red tape, has blocked construction of infrastructure projects.
“In the 1950s it took us eight years to design and build the first 80km of the M1. Today it can take that long just to widen one section of a motorway,”said Cameron. “So we are speeding things up.”
“It’s our ambition to cut the time it takes to upgrade our roads in half,” he added.
“So we are determined to dismantle some of the procedures that have been slowing us down - and slowing you down,” he said.
- Read more of Cameron’s speech in full here