On the 12th of February 2019, Bridget Rosewell’s review of planning report on the planning system was published.
Bridget Rosewell was appointed by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to chair the Independent Review of Planning Appeal Inquiries (the Review) in June 2018.
The aim of the Review was to make the use and operation of the planning appeal inquiries procedure quicker and better and make recommendations to significantly reduce the time taken to conclude planning inquiries while maintaining the quality of decisions.
The report identified that…
· The overwhelming majority of planning appeals (93%) are determined through the consideration of written representations, including householder and minor commercial appeals (written representations)
· A further 5% of planning appeals are dealt with through hearings.
· Only 2% of planning appeals are subject to an inquiry
· Over the five year period, 2013 to 2018 on average 315 inquiry appeals were decided each year
· 56% of decided inquiry appeals were allowed (or approved in the case of called-in applications)
· On average, from receipt of a valid appeal, it took 42 weeks for a decision to be made by an inspector
The report identified that based on submissions of evidence the things that work well are:
· The quality of inspectors holding inquiries and their decisions
· Inspectors fairness to parties, including members of the public and others unfamiliar with the inquiry process
· The value of oral presentation of evidence
· Benefits of rigorous cross-examination in really testing the evidence presented were also often commended
Things that don’t work well are:
· Excessive timescales for the process from start to finish
· Lack of transparency about the process and the evidence being considered
· The very limited availability, capability and use of technology in many instances
· Main parties might seek to influence the speed of the process for tactical advantage
The report revealed that the stage identified as having the greatest scope for improvement was the inquiry preparation stage between the start letter and the start of the inquiry.
22 recommendations are made:
Recommendation 1. The Planning Inspectorate should ensure the introduction of the new portal for the submission of inquiry appeals by December 2019, with pilot testing for inquiry cases to start in May 2019.
Recommendation 2. The Planning Inspectorate should work with representatives of the key sectors involved in drafting statements of case to devise new pro formas for these statements which can then be added to the new portal and include, where appropriate, the introduction of mandatory information fields and word limits.
Recommendation 3. The process of confirming the procedure to be used should be streamlined. Where an inquiry is requested, appellants should notify the local planning authority of their intention to appeal a minimum of 10 working days before the appeal is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. This notification should be copied to the Inspectorate.
Recommendation 4. The Planning Inspectorate should ensure that only complete appeals can be submitted and ensure 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.
Recommendation 5. The practice of the Planning Inspectorate leading on the identification of the date for the inquiry should be restored, with all inquiries commencing within 13 to 16 weeks of the start letter. Finding a way to help fund the cost of accommodation could reduce the financial burden on local planning authorities. It may also widen the choice of accommodation, bringing forward the identification of a suitable venue, which will benefit all parties. As a minimum requirement, all inquiry venues must allow internet access for all those attending the inquiry.
Recommendation 6. MHCLG should consult on the merits of appellants contributing to the accommodation costs of the inquiry.
Recommendation 7. MHCLG and the Planning Inspectorate should substantially overhaul the approach to the preparation of statements of common ground.
The overhauled approach should include:
• Encouraging a topic-based approach, where appropriate, which would ensure that disagreement on some matters did not hold up the submission of agreed positions on others
• Identification of areas where the parties are working together and there is the prospect of resolving reason(s) for refusal
• Strengthening the requirement for parties to identify issues of disagreement as well as agreement and reinforcing this emphasis by renaming the statements – Statements of Agreement and Disagreement
• The statement of common ground should include an agreed list of conditions and the reasons for them, as well as setting out those in dispute, draft terms of any s106 and a statement of compliance with statutory and policy requirements for the conditions and s106
• Newly detailed pro formas on the new online Planning Appeal Portal (supported by guidance) which drive a more structured approach, and the clear identification of issues of agreement and disagreement for common topics, such as highway matters, landscape impacts, or housing land availability. The Planning Inspectorate should work with leading topic experts, and other bodies who have inquiry experience, to develop the online pro formas and guidance. As with nationally significant infrastructure projects, best practice examples should also be published32
Recommendation 8 (a). In every inquiry appeal case, there should be case management engagement between the inspector, the main parties, Rule 6 parties and any other parties invited by the inspector, not later than 7 weeks after the start letter. (b) 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.
Recommendation 9. The inspector should decide, at the pre-inquiry stage, how best to examine the evidence at the inquiry and should notify the parties of the mechanism by which each topic or area of evidence will be examined, whether by a topic organisation, oral evidence and cross-examination, roundtable discussions or written statements.
Recommendation 10. The Planning Inspectorate should ensure all documents for an inquiry appeal are published on the new portal, in a single location, at the earliest opportunity following their submission.
Recommendation 11. The Planning Inspectorate should ensure the timely submission of documents. It should also initiate an award of costs where a party has acted unreasonably and caused another party to incur unnecessary or wasted expense.
Recommendation 12. The Planning Inspectorate should amend guidance and the model letter provided for local planning authorities to notify parties of an appeal, to make it clear that those interested parties who want Rule 6 status, should contact the Inspectorate immediately.
Recommendation 13. The Planning Inspectorate should consult with key stakeholder groups to update procedural guidance to set out clear expectations on the conduct of inquiries, based on a consistent adoption of current best practice and technology. Updated guidance should encourage and support inspectors to take a more proactive and directional approach.
Recommendation 14. The Planning Inspectorate should ensure that its programme for improving operational delivery through greater use of technology fully exploits the opportunities available to enhance the efficiency and transparency of the inquiry event, such as the use of transcription technology for inspectors and publishing webcasts of proceedings.
Recommendation 15. Alongside other recommendations that will improve the transparency and clarity of the process (Recommendations 10, 12, 13 and 14), the Planning Inspectorate should develop a more effective and accessible guide to the inquiry process for interested parties, including members of the public.
Recommendation 16. Programming of inspector workloads should ensure there is enough time to write up the case immediately after the close of the inquiry.
Recommendation 17 (a). To minimise the number of cases that need to be decided by the Secretary of State, MHCLG should keep their approach to the recovery of appeals and call-in applications under review. (b) The Planning Inspectorate should work with MHCLG to identify ways that technology can be used to speed up the process of preparing the inspector’s report to the Secretary of State.
Recommendation 18. The Planning Inspectorate should submit an action plan to the Secretary of State by April 2019. The action plan should set out how it will ensure that the necessary organisational measures are put in place to deliver the proposed timescale targets and wider improvements by no later than June 2020. This should include the mechanisms by which sufficient inspectors can be made available. The action plan should also set out challenging, but realistic, intermediate milestones to be achieved by September 2019.
Recommendation 19. The Planning Inspectorate should review the issue of withdrawn appeals and consider how the impact on its work can be minimised. To deliver this the Inspectorate should:
(a) Always collect information from appellants about why an appeal is withdrawn.
(b) Initiate an award of costs where there is evidence of unreasonable behaviour by a party in connection with a withdrawn appeal (c) with the benefit of more detailed information, review whether further steps can be taken to reduce the impact of withdrawals on its resources and other parties.
Recommendation 20. The Planning Inspectorate and MHCLG should regularly discuss the practical impact of new policy and guidance on the consideration of evidence at inquiries with those parties who are frequently involved in the planning appeal inquiry process.
Recommendation 21. The Planning Inspectorate should adopt the following targets for the effective management of inquiry appeals from receipt to decision (a) Inquiry appeals decided by the Inspector Receipt to decision – within 24 weeks – 90% of cases Receipt to decision – within 26 weeks – remaining 10% of cases (b) Inquiry appeals decided by the Secretary of State Receipt to submission of inspector’s report – within 30 weeks – 100% of cases. The Inspectorate should regularly report on its performance in meeting these timescales and what steps it is taking to expedite any cases that take longer.
Recommendation 22. (a) The Planning Inspectorate should use the Transformation Programme to ensure there are robust and comprehensive management and business information, which is regularly collected and reported, on all aspects of their operation.
(b) In developing an improved suite of information the Inspectorate should also:
• Ensure their digital case management record system records information on key variables in a consistent way
• Agree with MHCLG a new set of key performance indicators to effectively monitor the inquiry appeal process from end to end, including the availability of senior inspectors.
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