Cyril Dixon reports
THE CONDUCT of lawyers is to be scrutinised in an extensive review of planning law set up by Labour.
Shadow planning minister Keith Vaz is heading a panel which will look at the cause of delays, costs, confusion and anomalies in the system.
Vaz says that one of the key areas to be examined in the four-month review is the part played by members of the legal profession.
In the past, solicitors and barristers have been criticised for adding time and cost to proceedings by spinning out evidence, examination and cross-examination.
The panel includes among its members Robert McCracken, chair of the Planning and Environmental Bar Association, and Peter Woods, a partner with London solicitors firm Stephens Innocent.
Vaz says: "We don't want it to become a lawyer-bashing exercise, but there has been a lot of complaints about the legal profession.
"We want to try to make the procedure as simple and effective as possible for everybody. Current planning law is a jungle of anomalies."
Labour's initiative comes as the Government is preparing its own circular aimed at cutting what Environment Secretary John Gummer called "time-wasting" at inquiries.
His comments followed a
report produced by a firm of planning consultants which suggested a number of measures including intervention during lengthy cross-examination and the imposition of time limits.
The Labour panel intends to look at 13 areas which it says "lack clarity and as a result have created an unworkable and frustrating framework". They include:
– Cost and length of the inquiry process;
– Confusion over planning policy guidance;
– Policy on shopping centres;
– Rights of appeal granted to third parties in cases.
Vaz says the team does not intend to completely rewrite planning law, but to highlight those areas which would be reformed if Labour wins the next election.