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Mediation set to save ailing appeal system

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The ODPM is on the verge of introducing a mediation system for small-scale appeals as a measure to relieve the current crisis in the Planning Inspectorate (PINS), the AJ has learned.

The department will discuss the option at an emergency meeting next week, in which it will assess options for relieving the problems that have seen yearlong delays hit applications (AJ 30.9.04).

PINS chief executive Katrine Sporle has written to the Association of Consultant Architects' planning chair Andy Rogers to express her support for the idea of mediation. Her letter admits that the delays - which were triggered when the time allowed to take applications to appeal for non-determination was cut from six months to three - need immediate action.

'Like you, we agree that there is an urgent need for mediation facilities, ' Sporle said in the letter.

'Many appeals would be resolved easily with a positive approach to dispute resolution, and we are working with the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution to promote the greater use of mediation.

'I think you will find the ODPM alive to the benefits of mediation but to date there has been no funding available to initiate any practical schemes.' The letter adds that there are other options available that will be considered at the meeting to solve the predicament. Among the more likely to be adopted is the idea that inspectors should make their decisions immediately, with written reasons following at a later date.

Sporle said another potential solution would be persuading the ODPM to reinstate the six-month rule. However, she said ministers were 'unlikely' to accept it.

Rogers himself told the AJ that Sporle's letter should be seen as a positive as it 'proved' that the inspectorate was taking the problems seriously. 'I think it is extremely positive and helpful, ' he said. 'Sporle clearly understands the problems that the rest of us have recognised.

'The last time the ODPM thought about mediation was way back in 1993, and it now seems increasingly likely that its time has come round again.

'But what it does show is that it seems we are now pulling in the same direction. However, there's no point in pretending that this is not an extremely tricky situation and it will not be changed overnight, ' Rogers added.

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