Last month, the Government published the report of the Independent Review of Planning Appeal Inquiries. This sets out 22 recommendations for change. These range from simple improvements in timetabling to an increased use of technology.
The recommendations can be grouped into three main areas:
Earlier engagement by all parties, including:
- Ensuring that only complete appeals can be submitted and a start letter is issued within 5 working days of the receipt of each inquiry appeal. The start letter should include the name of the inspector who will conduct the appeal;
- Case management engagement between the inspector and the parties not later than 7 weeks after the start letter;
- Following the case management engagement, the inspector should issue clear directions to the parties about the final stages of preparation and how evidence will be examined no later than 8 weeks after the start letter;
- The inspector telling the parties, at the pre-inquiry stage, how evidence will be examined at the inquiry.
Greater certainty about timescales, including:
- The Planning Inspectorate to lead on identifying a date for the inquiry, and all inquiries starting within 13 to 16 weeks of the start letter;
- 90% of cases decided by the Inspector should go from receipt to decision within 24 weeks, with the remaining 10% of cases being dealt with within 26 weeks;
- All cases decided by the Secretary of State should proceed from receipt to submission of the inspector's report within 30 weeks;
- To encourage a timely submission of documents, the Planning Inspectorate should impose sanctions where a party has acted unreasonably and caused another party to incur unnecessary or wasted costs.
Harnessing technology to improve efficiency and transparency, including:
- The introduction of a new online Planning Appeal portal for the submission of inquiry appeals. This will be introduced by December 2019, with pilot testing to start in May 2019;
- All documents for an appeal should be published on the new portal at the earliest opportunity following their submission
- Further uses for technology should be identified to improve the efficiency and transparency of the process.
Will the average time to decide a planning appeal be "slashed from 47 to 26 weeks", as the Government claims? Katherine Evans, Head of Planning comments that " speeding up the time that it takes for appeals to be validated and the allocation of an Inspector are areas of particular concern but this does not only affect appeals heard at inquiry. It is a pity that these improvements aren't being aimed at all types of appeal. Recruitment of additional Inspectors by the Planning Inspectorate must also be a priority."
Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove Jones
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