5 June 2020
Since 2014 the Planning Inspectorate has published details of the average time taken for planning, enforcement, and householder appeals. However, on 5 May the Inspectorate announced that they would not be published. This is the result of having to postpone site visits, Hearings and Inquiries due to the Coronavirus outbreak, and hence timescales are inevitably extended. There is no suggestion that publication will not resume when a sufficient level of normality returns to daily life and this transparency is important.
However, the length of time it takes for an appeal to be determined has long been seen as a problem: the Rosewell Review of 2018 identified this as an issue for the development industry, local authorities, and local communities. Throughout the process developers incur development and land holding costs, and prolonging the uncertainty of decisions can undermine plan-making and confidence in the planning system. Many planners will have experienced a scenario where after several months of waiting for a decision a policy document or case law has changed, potentially undermining one side of the argument. By definition, a shorter timescale reduces the potential for this uncertainty for all parties.
The Rosewell Review also identified the need for technological changes to support the appeal process, and the Coronavirus outbreak crisis has provided renewed focus on this. It is encouraging that the Planning Inspectorate is piloting the use of digital hearings, and even digital site visits, and all will need to be shown to be fair, robust, and inclusive before becoming an accepted feature of the system.
It is imperative that the appeal process remains a viable tool for all stakeholders to appeal a refusal or to defend a position. The Rosewell Review can potentially be viewed as several years too late to benefit the country after the great financial crash when a government desire to develop was arguably undermined by the speed of decision making on appeals. It is hoped that things can be different now and that innovation can show the way. To return to growth will require a system which reduces the time for an appeal to be determined to a reasonable period, and this could be just as important as any reform planning to policy, procedure, or legislation.