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Planning changes up a gear

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New procedures are set to accelerate the appeals process and could set up an alternative way of obtaining planning decisions

On average only 60 per cent of planning decisions are granted within eight weeks. But in August new procedures came into force, in the spirit of Modernising Planning 1, aimed at promoting swifter appeals processing by the Planning Inspectorate.

Details of the changes can be found in Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions' circular 05/00 2, which supersedes Department of Environment Circular 15/96. The new procedures are implemented by five new Statutory Instruments 3.This fine-tuning affects the way in which architects have to prepare and follow-up appeals and it also imposes a stricter timetable on local authorities.

The Planning Inspectorate is already beating government targets, with 80 per cent of appeals decided by written representations being determined within 17 weeks; for (informal) hearings 23 weeks; and for inquiries 33 weeks. The Inspectorate does not get involved in local planning issues except in the event of an appeal. Once an appeal decision has been allowed, the responsibility for it returns to the local council, to which further complaints must be directed.

The improved performance of the planning inspectorate has implications for the decision as to when and whether to appeal in the first place.

The main changes are:

When refusing permission or imposing conditions, local authorities must include a statement of all policies and proposals in the development plan relevant to the decision.

The public inquiry will become increasingly rare, with the expanding use and acceptance of (informal) hearings. Its use is already down to 8 per cent of all appeals.

Where an inquiry is expected to last more than eight days, early preinquiry meetings must be held unless the secretary of state considers it unnecessary.

The appellant and the local planning authority should prepare an agreed statement of common ground and send it to the secretary of state and any statutory party four weeks before the inquiry.

To avoid 'cross examination by post', the rules require simultaneous submission of evidence and strict adherence to timetables. Representations received after due dates will normally be disregarded and the secretary of state can now disregard any representations or evidence received after the close of an inquiry.

The local planning authority is to present its case first at inquiries; and inspectors are to 'exercise tight control over advocacy and crossexamination'.

The secretary of state could decide whether an inquiry is the appropriate forum, by judging the need for crossexaminations (usually of expert witnesses), and considering the extent to which there are third parties wishing to make representations. In the absence of these issues - except where the development is of relatively farreaching or national interest - inquiries are likely to be resisted in the interests of expediting appeal decisionmaking. Fewer inquiries suggests less reliance on the legal profession.Architects can also instruct barristers directly without the involvement of a solicitor - useful in cases where there are no significant issues of planning law. In cases where an architect feels he or she has mastery of policy issues and can articulate the case in the informal environment of a hearing, the cost and complexity of pursuing an appeal can be greatly reduced.

The new rules impose rigid timetabling discipline on planning authorities.As well as beating targets, the Planning Inspectorate has speeded up the administration of cases. It has found that under-resourced and not necessarily well-organised planning authorities have caused delays by not submitting their statements in good time. Sometimes they are unable to agree the earliest date offered by the inspectorate - usually keenly accepted by the appellant.

It is often argued that, until the appeal process is speeded up, there will not be a sufficient deterrent to recalcitrant planning authorities.

However, it is now reaching a point where the planning inspectorate may be viewed as a legitimate and practical alternative jurisdiction for planning decisions. Where one anticipates that the authority is going to take many months to get their project before a committee, one should consider taking a deemed refusal after eight weeks (but check the authority is not delaying the date of registration of the application). Having prepared all policy and design arguments as part of the application, one can lodge an immediate appeal, with a request for a hearing in substantial cases.

Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership. Tel 020 7828 6555, e-mail brian@bwcp.co.uk


Modernising Planning , DETR, www.planning.detr.gov.uk/modern/index.htm

DETR Circular 05/00, Planning Appeals: Procedures (Including Inquiries into Called-in Planning Applications) SI2000 Nos 1624 to 1628: Inquiries Procedure ; Determination by Inspectors; Hearings Procedure; General Development Procedure; Written Representations Procedure All available from the Stationery Office, tel 0970 600 5522

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