The timing of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is causing concern for developers and planning authorities alike.
EIAs ensure environmental effects of developments are explored before planning decisions are made.
EIAs are carried out at outline planning permission stage. This month, however, the European Court of Justice ruled that they could not be limited to such an early stage of a development.
The impact of that ruling could be far-reaching on developers, who have welcomed previous judicial decisions backing the need for an EIA and its early completion.
The European Court case concerned plans for a leisure complex at Crystal Palace that includes 18 cinemas, several leisure areas, an exhibition area, restaurants and a car park. A Londoner, Ms Barker, brought the case to challenge the fact an EIA was not required for reserved matters.
The European Commission also brought proceedings against the UK, saying UK regulations breached an EIA directive. As a result, the Government will have to review the law and Bromley Borough Council must make a fresh decision about the scheme.
Developers' main concern is that this decision could dilute legal certainty and mean a return to a prolonged planning-permission procedure.
The Barker case goes against a previous judicial decision, which emphasised the need for early consideration of an EIA.
In that case a cinema operator challenged planning permission permitting another cinema to be built nearby. Staged permission had been granted, first for business use of a large area, then outline permission for leisure use (including a multiplex cinema) and finally reserved- matters consent for the cinema.
The operator asked if the authority had considered the requirement for an EIA at the relevant stage. The authority said it had not considered an EIA at the first stage, but had at stages two and three and decided it was not needed.
The court agreed with the planning authority.
The two conclusions contrast vividly. Planning authorities must consider carefully whether or not an EIA is required and developers must be aware outline permission may no longer be the final stage at which an EIA is considered.
Richard Freeman-Wallace is head of property at law firm Watson Burton in Newcastle.