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Pincher sets out new planning appeal monitoring measures

Words: Laura Edgar
Third party appeal / Drozd Irina, Shutterstock_1791139073

Housing minister Christopher Pincher has written to the Planning Inspectorate’s (PINS) chief executive Sarah Richards outlining new measures for appeals, including an expectation to reduce average times for decisions.

The letter also sets forth that the government will work on what is necessary to achieve “a further significant improvement in appeal decision timeliness beyond the new measures”.

The new measures for appeals are:

  • An expectation that measures are put in place through the new digital services to prevent invalid appeals being made and that appeals are increasingly submitted “right first time”.
  • Measuring decision timeliness from valid receipt of an appeal through to decision to reflect the whole customer experience.
  • An expectation that average times for decisions will be reduced, as well as reducing the range of time within which decisions are made. The average time to decide written representations cases currently varies between 20 and 30 weeks, with some determined as quickly as eight weeks but some taking more than a year. This range provides insufficient customer certainty.
  • Moving progressively towards all cases across all appeal types being decided within these ranges:

     – wholly written representations: 16-20 weeks.
     – partly or wholly by hearing: 24-26 weeks.
     – partly or wholly by inquiry: 24-26 weeks (reflecting the previous Rosewell target).
     – publishing the number of cases we have quality assured.

The measures that won’t be used are:

  • The range of different target times for different appeal types: eight, 14, 22, 24, 26, 28, 32, 33 or 43 weeks depending on the appeal type.
  • The target of fewer than 1 per cent of decisions being the subject of successful legal challenge.
  • Targets based on the ‘start’ date (which is not at the ‘start’ of the customer experience of PINS services).

The statutory time frames for national infrastructure applications (NSIPs) and the target for local plans remain the same. However, they may change when current proposals for wider reforms are finalised.

Pincher writes: “As you know, the government is also committed to improving and modernising the planning system. The work you are undertaking to develop 21st-century digital public services is an important part of this. I would welcome you complementing that by identifying what steps might be necessary to achieve a further significant consistent improvement in appeal timescales beyond those above so that most appeals could be consistently decided in four – eight weeks, or faster, whilst maintaining good standards of decision. Consideration can then be given to whether these steps might be appropriate.”

Richards commented: “The measures by which ministers assess the Planning Inspectorate’s performance have needed updating for a considerable time to better reflect what our customers want. The replacement measures are good news for us and our customers and will support us implementing ongoing improvements.

“We know our decisions are currently taking too long and customers tell us their experience of our services is too inconsistent. We are working hard to improve this in the short term and continue to invest in recruiting and training more inspectors. Achieving the ambition of these new measures will not be quick, or without dissatisfaction from some, but everyone at the Planning Inspectorate will work together to achieve them.

“We are also investing in the long term, building digital public services which will be at the forefront of a digital planning system and piloting innovative new approaches which have the potential to support both our work and the wider planning system.

“I welcome the minister’s request to report to him on what would be necessary to support a further significant improvement in appeals. This recognises the importance of a fair appeal system to the nation’s economy and is an important opportunity to reflect on how the appeal system can be reframed to operate sustainably for the future. We will engage with key stakeholders on this in due course before we report to the minister.”

Read Christopher Pincher's letter here on the UK Government website (pdf).

Image credit | Drozd Irina, Shutterstock