JUVE Law Firm of the year

Environmental and Planning Law

New law, old conflicts

Many German towns and cities are suffering from a shortage of homes. The municipalities concerned face the challenge of finding suitable spaces for residential construction and reconciling competing uses. The amendment to the Federal Land Utilization Ordinance could help, as this created a new category of building area: the “urban area”. Alongside residential buildings, commercial and office buildings are now allowed here too, as well as hotels and sports facilities. Conflicts surrounding noise and odor will soon follow.

But before such urban areas can be built, they too must be put through their paces in an environmental impact assessment – an instrument that has been deployed in major infrastructure projects for years.

The ECJ, however, in its much-observed ruling in October 2015, found a need for improvement in the right of associations to take legal action, which the federal government has now taken into account. The proceedings involving the Moorburg power plant and the decision to deepen the Elbe River also caused a stir in this respect. Likewise, grid expansion offers plenty of potential for conflicts. After transmission system operators (TSOs) were forced to redraft their application documents last year due to the ruling that underground cables should be given priority, the resistance to projects like SuedLink has by no means abated, but merely shifted to another section of the population.

Public law under scrutiny

While firms like Linklaters, Clifford Chance and Redeker Sellner Dahs have long advised TSOs, outfits such as Luther and CMS Hasche Sigle are now attempting to get their slice of the pie as well. In urban construction it is often boutiques such as Malmendier Hellriegel in Berlin and Lenz und Johlen in Cologne that land appealing instructions through their good contacts in the local scene. This kind of business is rarely found in large firms, which tend to focus on work that will keep more than just the public lawyers busy.

The diesel affair is a prime example as this raised a multitude of public law and regulatory questions and delivered a sizeable amount of interdisciplinary work for firms. Firms with access to large teams and an international network are in high demand. The pioneer here is Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which provided extensive, global advice to VW on all regulatory aspects. But Hogan Lovells, White & Case and Baker & McKenzie also positioned themselves at the side of auto manufacturers and the supplier industry for this central issue.

The growing importance of environmental aspects is causing some firms to rethink their strategies. White & Case is looking to make its work more profitable by focusing on international clients and clear advisory specialties. Gleiss Lutz used the retirement of some of its figureheads to integrate its practice more closely with other fields – a path taken years ago by Hengeler Mueller. Competitors were critical of this back then, but today it is a prime example of how public law, once denounced as unprofitable, can indeed be lucrative.


This chapter covers firms that are active in environmental and planning law as well as public planning and construction, which is also largely made up of environmental aspects in addition to approval issues. Interfaces arise with ?public procurement and ?construction. Environmental law also plays a significant role in the operation of power plants and real estate, e.g. in terms of nature conservation, resource efficiency and emissions trading (interface with ?energy law) and the sale of plants (interface with ?M&A).

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