The prime minister came under attack from environmental groups and trade unions after pledging to make government work faster by streamlining equality rules and legal red tape.

David Cameron told business leaders that opponents of planning decisions and policies would be given less time to apply for judicial review, face higher fees and see the chances to appeal halved, while Equality Impact Assessments would no longer be compulsory.

Speaking at the CBI conference in London, Cameron said judicial review had become a "massive growth industry" which was delaying action and costing taxpayers too much money.

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Cameron received an angry reception from some of those listening

"We urgently needed to get a grip on this. So here's what we're going to do: reduce the time limit when people can bring cases; charge more for reviews - so people think twice about time-wasting."

He said he was "calling time" on government departments having to make Equality Impact Assessments, adding: "We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they're making the policy. We don't need all this extra tick-box stuff."

But the speech drew an angry response from equality and green campaigners.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said most judicial reviews related to immigration cases, and of those related to planning, a number were actually brought by developers as well as local authorities or the government itself.

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Vince Cable talked about student skills training

The campaign group's chief executive, Shaun Spiers, said: "The vast majority are not environmental cases, and of those which are environmental or planning cases, quite a lot of planning cases are brought by developers."

Friends of the Earth's executive director Andy Atkins said: "The planning system plays an important role in protecting our green and pleasant land. It mustn't become a scapegoat for the government's economic failings."

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: "The clock is currently turning back on women's rights and the prime minister has today abolished one of the key tools we have in place for not only defending them but for ensuring we make the most of women's talents and potential in repairing the UK's economy.

"The 80% male ministerial list, and 65% male Whitehall machine, will now have little if any reason to think about the impact of their policies on women's everyday lives."

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Boris Johnson was also speaking at the conference

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Against the backdrop of the threat of a triple dip recession, this is a clear attempt to restrict ordinary people's rights to question and challenge this Tory-led government's unfair and damaging cuts that so obviously are not working.

"Taken together, these further restrictions on the public's involvement in policy-making expose the lie that this government of millionaires is in any way interested in being open and transparent."

Diana Holland, Unite's assistant general secretary, said: "The equality impact assessment is one of the few ways people can force this government to slow down, as it tears through the services and structures which help support those in most need in society."

Meanwhile, the business secretary told the CBI that battles would have to be won inside the government to prioritise a drive to bolster the country's skills base and encourage more young people to consider a career in engineering,

Vince Cable said he was pressing ahead with plans to reverse constraints on skills that have resulted from an historic "serious lack of investment".

Apprenticeships only covered a "modest proportion" of students, so the UK "badly needed" a system of training that dealt better with youngsters not in education, employment or training, he said.

The minister announced that a scheme set up to match jobs with engineers leaving the defence sector is being extended to cover universities, so that students can search for jobs - effectively an "eBay for talent".

Stephen Radley, director of policy at the EEF manufacturers' organisation, said: "Engineering skills will be critical for growth in the future but a recent EEF survey shows that almost seven in 10 of our members are currently experiencing recruitment problems because of candidates' lack of technical skills."