The unusual and speedy success of the ACA's campaign, supported by the AJ, to sort out the meltdown at the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) was more than just a lesson in effective lobbying. It was also another demonstration of the need for testing out new legislation before inflicting it on an unprepared world.
Written appeals had leapt from a 16-week decision target to 45-50 weeks just to arrange the inspector's visit. The principal driver for this failure was a ministerial announcement in summer 2003 about applications made after 5 September that year. Appeals would have to be lodged within three months of their eight-week decision period, as opposed to the usual six months. The idea was to put more pressure on authorities to get a move on, but the disastrous consequences were predictable - and predicted.
The ACA saw that, especially in London, councils would not be in a position to negotiate within the shortened period and that applicants would simply take a deemed refusal to appeal after the eight weeks.
Writing here in November 2003, I wrote that: 'Appeals are set to proliferate - the change from six to three months in the time available to lodge a 'non-determination' appeal? has set alarm bells ringing? We will see a big rise in tactical appeals in coming months. These changes do nothing to reduce workload or the pressure on planning authorities or to speed up the system.' The ACA wrote a constructive open letter to Katerine Sporle, PINS chief executive, suggesting five 'emergency measures', acknowledging that the problem was not of the agency's making. This was well received, and the ACA's planning group chairman was invited to attend an 'emergency meeting' with Richard McCarthy, the ODPM civil servant responsible. Examples, many arising from councils responding to the pressure of statistical performance under the delivery grant, were provided by ACA members for discussion. In December, planning minister Keith Hill announced measures to come into effect on 15 January, which responded to each of the ACA's suggestions (apart from mediation, which is to be the subject of a separate announcement).
Let's do more to test policies before implementing them.