If a local planning authority (LPA) refuses your planning application, or fails to determine it within a specified period, you have a right to appeal. If you have exhausted all possibilities with the LPA, appealing can be the only route forward.
However, like most LPAs, The Planning Inspectorate (PINS), who process and decide appeals, are under-resourced at a time when there are lots of projects going through the system.
PINS failed to meet six out of nine of its key planning and enforcement casework targets in 2017/18, according to its latest annual report, which describes its performance as “unacceptable” for many customers (www.planningresource.co.uk). In 2017/18 it took PINs on average 19.5 weeks to determine written appeals; 31.1 weeks for Hearings; and 44 weeks for Inquiries. When you have already endured a long planning process with the LPA, further lengthy delays are the last thing a developer needs.
Here at JT Planning, 90% of our work is preparing and submitting planning applications and appeals. At a time when the Government is promoting the benefits of new housing, it is extremely frustrating that LPAs cannot deal with the volume of applications. To add insult to injury, the appeals process is also grinding to a halt.
Delays and bad decisions creates uncertainty for developers. It can also dissuade developers from investing in a certain area if the local council cannot make timely decisions on their planning applications.
So, what’s the answer and how do we improve this? As ever, it is never a simple answer! In my opinion, planning needs to be given more priority by Government and by LPAs. The easiest way to achieve improvement is to increase budgets and better fund the sector. I guess this is very unlikely given the austerity programme we have endured since the financial crisis and planning is just one of many other priority services that need better funding.
I do think there are other ways of improving the overall planning service, whether it be through the LPA or PINS. The Government has already gone some way to alleviate the pressure by increasing permitted development (PD) rights (taking some developments out the system) and increasing planning fees. But to be perfectly honest, not much has changed, if anything it might be slightly worse, as the new PD rights introduced can be complicated and there are inconsistencies in how they are processed at a local level.
I don’t have any major gripe with our planning system. I think it is quite a good one, and does reasonably well to balance everyone’s interests. The problem I have is the human element and how planners interpret a proposal. We see major inconsistencies in terms of how policy and legislation is applied and interpreted.
This creates huge delays and major costs for clients. There’s always a human element with any decision, and maybe this is one part of planning that will never change.
Perhaps additional training and more emphasis on these issues through universities might help to create more, good planners who want to facilitate development, not stop it in its tracks!