COVID-19 The Planning Inspectorate; How the planning functions are being implemented.

11 May 2020

Ensuring the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) continues to provide an efficient service is vital to the planning profession and to the UK economy as a whole.

Thankfully PINS is taking a positive and proactive approach to the current crisis and, on 28th April, released a publication on the GOV.UK website addressing this issue.  This publication of course follows the Rosewell Review (Feb 2019), which produced recommendations aimed to speed up the appeal decision making process.  Interestingly, PINS issued an action plan confirming that it intended to meet the recommendations produced by the Review, which included exploring technological opportunities such as the use of virtual events.

Implementing digital events

PINS confirms that work is taking place behind the scenes to implement digital events. These events will ensure that hearings and inquiries held via telephone or video conferencing.

Pins have also confirmed that whilst this had been planned for later in the year to build on the successes of the Rosewell review, priority has now been given to implementing digital events to progress cases during this unprecedented time.

As a consequence, PINS has confirmed that the latest on this work includes:

  • The first fully ‘digital’ hearing is due to take place on 11 May.
  • Preparation is being made for additional cases to be heard by digital hearings/inquiries in May/early June with a view to scaling up digital events further over June/July.
  • Postponed cases are being assessed to establish whether they can proceed by digital, traditional or a ‘hybrid’ approach, in order to re-arrange these in due course accordingly.
  • A trial of ‘virtual site visits’ is underway involving thirteen Inspectors.
  • Five local advisory visits have taken place remotely (critical for helping Local Planning Authorities to progress local plans and reduce the length of examinations).

PINS has highlighted the need to ensure that this approach works and maintains the standards of fairness, public access and inclusion for the four main groups involved: the appellant/agent, the Local Planning Authority, the Inspector and any interested parties such as local communities.

PINS recognises that

Getting this right will provide an improved model which works now and after the current crisis and ensures we continue to issue fair and robust decisions and recommendations.’

Following the current trials PINS has confirmed that it is their aim is to:

Within three months: Roll out good practice widely both in terms of number of events as well as types of casework covered, with supporting training, templates and communications.

Within six months: Develop the capability to conduct fully digital and hybrid events fairly and robustly across all casework areas and for most cases.

For now, PINS has confirmed that appeals can be submitted via the Appeals Casework Portal. Whilst PINS can still receive hard copy post, they are presently experiencing substantial delays. It is recommended that electronic methods are therefore utilised for sending any documents wherever possible to ensure timely receipt.

To read the publication in full please click on the link below.

Should you require any further information or advice on the submission of or current procedure relating to appeals, please do not hesitate to contact one of the members of our planning team.