The aim of the recommendations is to improve the speed and customer experience of the inquiries procedure, with a target of ensuring that planning appeal inquiry decisions are determined in no more than 24 weeks from receipt, in 90 per cent of cases by June 2020.
The foreword to PINS’ response states:
“We are encouraged by the practical, common sense nature of the recommendations which promise to lead not only to much faster decisions but also to radically improve the experience of customers. Crucial to this is the introduction of an overhauled appeal portal which we anticipate will be ready by the end of 2019”
Some of the first recommendations to be adopted, according to the plan, involve early input from inspectors, who now hold conference calls with appeal parties to discuss the process and set out how evidence will be examined. The inspectorate warned that it wouldn’t just be inspectors who will need to adapt their approach. “All appeal parties will need to be more proactive, cooperative and ready to meet inquiry deadlines,” it said. The action plan outlined potential penalties for parties acting “unreasonably”, including fines for the late submission of evidence.
One of the five recommendations which has already gone “live” includes early case management engagement between inspectors and the inquiry’s main parties, which is being trialled on pilot cases. Inspectors hold conference calls to discuss how to make best use of inquiry time before confirming the agreed arrangements and issuing a timetable for document submission.
Rosewell also called for PINS to develop a more “accessible guide to the inquiry process for interested parties”, including members of the public. To this end, the plan confirms the inspectorate is developing a series of video user guides, while a guide to inquiries is close to publication.
In addition, information on withdrawn appeals, including volumes and reasons for withdrawal, is now routinely recorded. Appeal start letters now refer to withdrawals, requesting that reasons for withdrawal need to be submitted and highlighting the implications to all parties.The action plan also sets out plans to streamline the process for deciding the mode of appeal to be used, by requiring appellants to notify the Local Planning Authority of their intention to appeal a minimum of 10 working days before the appeal is submitted to PINS. Whilst this is currently proposed as guidance, it has been suggested that it may be made mandatory through legislation if six months of monitoring shows that the approach is not being followed. PINS will also be less flexible in terms of dates and deadlines, which are to be imposed.
Whilst PINS has provided a comprehensive timetable of milestones relating to the delivery of the Review’s recommendations, it does however consider that a relatively long transition period may be needed that will be largely dependent on the number of inquiries coming forward, as well as the amount of other case work taken on over the period