Planning Inquiries Set to Stay

Yesterday the government published the report of Bridget Rosewell OBE following her review into the planning appeal system.

At a time when backbench bills have promoted the idea of heavily restricting or removing the right of appeal from planning decisions, the report states that “there is much to commend in the current process” and identifies the perceived advantages of the public inquiry as follows:

The responses to the Call for Evidence confirm what we consistently heard at the stakeholder meetings that the ability to present evidence, and have it rigorously tested through cross-examination are very important for all the groups involved in the process. Other factors which were also highly valued were the ability for some matters to be examined in more detail than might be possible through either a hearing or written representation process and the opportunities available for the views of communities to be heard“.

It is therefore not unsurprising that the system is recommended to remain albeit with a series of reforms that are largely a common-sense introduction of good practice. That being said, the author frankly acknowledges the need for a culture change in the conduct of PINS as well as the provision of significant resources if the reforms are to work.

The statistics set out in the report all too clearly demonstrate the need for reform and additional resources:

  • An average of 315 inquiry appeals were decided each year in the last five years.
  • Around 81% of these were decided by a planning inspector (with the remaining decisions taken by the Secretary of State).
  • In 2017/18, average timescales for inquiries determined by an inspector were as follows:
    • Receipt to start letter – 7 weeks
    • Start letter to start of inquiry – 29 weeks
    • Start of inquiry to decision – 11 weeks
    • Receipt to decision – 47 weeks
  • Over the past four years, the number of appeals has reduced by 30% and the approval rate for appeal decisions has declined from 62% to 47% over the same period.

The report makes a total of 22 recommendations, ranging from committing the Planning Inspectorate to introducing a new online portal for the submission of inquiry appeals to setting out a strategy for recruiting additional inspectors so inquiries can be scheduled sooner, reducing the length of time they take to conclude.

According to the DCLG, the Planning Inspectorate will now prepare an implementation plan which will set out precisely how it will deliver these recommendations. Let’s hope that we do not wait too long!