Under plans first revealed by the then-communities secretary Ruth Kelly in May 2007, planning applications for projects considered nationally important by government will no longer be considered by local authorities but fast-tracked through the process by a central Infrastructure Planning Commission (NCE 24 May 2007).
"The new system is designed to reduce the scope for objectors to challenge this or any other major development," said law firm LG's head of planning Trevor Blaney.
"There may well be an issue as to whether the proposed new procedures comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and the government has acknowledged this."
The European Convention on Human Rights is addressed in the explanatory notes for the Planning Bill, which is going through Parliament and is expected to receive Royal Assent this summer.
The government believes the provisions of the Planning Bill are compatible with article 6 of the Convention as although there will be no automatic right to a public hearing, such a hearing will take place at the discretion of the Commission.
However, Blaney believes there is a difference between a right to a public inquiry and a public inquiry at the discretion of the Commission. "It's possible someone might go to the High Court to see whether it does contravene human rights," said Blaney.
"Planning inquiries can run for years, but they are a safety valve. It's a worry that we may see a return to Newbury bypass and Swampy.
"At Newbury there was a good answer from the highways department in that the matter had been to public inquiry. However, once you water down that inquiry system, it's whether that answer is still valid."