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Embracing change: new style planning inquiries speeding up decision making

Changes to the management and operation of s.78 appeals, with greater involvement and intervention by Inspectors, being piloted by PINS and are set to be rolled out across England this summer.

The Planning Inspectorate is very actively responding to the recommendations by Bridget Rosewell that came out of her Independent Review of Planning Appeal Inquiries last year. A key driver of those recommendations is to reduce the time taken for determination of appeals from 47 weeks to 26 weeks; and where possible to 13-16 weeks.

A recruitment drive is underway and inspectors are being trained in new procedures.

A new ‘Rosewell Style’ inquiry has been piloted, encompassing a raft of changes to the conduct of inquiries, and the first decisions are starting to emerge. New guidance from PINS is expected imminently, explaining how inspectors will now run inquiries with greater direction and more active involvement from the start. It will also give revised guidance on the vexed issue of Statements of Common Ground.

Dates for inquiries are being fixed very early on, with less flexibility for all parties, enabling a named inspector to be assigned to a case who can then start to identify the issues and most appropriate format for the inquiry. Those initial findings will be shared with the parties in a case management note and then discussed on a conference call led by the inspector, before being confirmed in a post-conference note and timetable.

PINS new inq timetable guide

A significant change is the introduction of a ‘hybrid’ procedure, whereby some issues may be dealt with by written statements; others by way of a round table discussion without cross-examination; and key issues dealt with in the conventional inquiry way.

Forthcoming changes and future ambitions 

PINS recognises that by achieving the new target times on inquiries they will be quicker than hearings. More improvements and active management are expected for those appeals as well.

To help the process of deciding the appeal mode to be followed appellants are being asked to give 10 working days’ notice of lodging an appeal. If necessary legislation may be introduced to make this step mandatory.

Government departments are working to find a way around technical difficulties currently preventing the full adoption of an appeal portal. Some of the measures to improve case management, such as the introduction of pro-formas for Statements of Case, will need to be introduced as paper versions until the portal is live.

Lastly, PINs makes no secret of its desire to introduce fees for lodging appeals. Issues of natural justice arise and will need to be carefully examined before such a step is introduced. Before then we are likely to see requests for appellants to share the costs of venue hire with LPAs and automatic fines for the late submission of evidence.  Provided that revenue raised from such measures flows back into the inquiry system, to pay for other PINS ambitions, such as live streaming of inquiries, then they are likely to be supported by the industry.

For more information please contact Bob May.

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31 May 2019

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