New Planning Appeal Procedures
One of the Government’s key aims of the Planning Act 2008 was to speed up the appeals process and make the system ‘proportionate’ to the proposal under consideration. As a result, a number of changes have been made to the appeals process. The changes came in effect on 6th April 2009 and can be summarised as follows:
Nature and Content of Documents
Both sides in an appeal must ensure that their appeal documents are clear. Appellants must ensure that the Grounds of Appeal relate to the proposal as refused at application stage, without any substantial changes that could prejudice any party. All sides should be confident of their case and should not need to commission further evidence.
Choosing the Appeal method
The Planning Inspectorate will now decide on the appeal method (Written Representation, Hearing or Public Inquiry). This applies to both planning and enforcement appeals. Both the Appellant and the
Local Planning Authority will have the opportunity to express their opinion on the choice made.
In light of the loss of the right to choose the appeal method, both parties can now claim costs as part
of a Written Representation appeal.
Householder Appeal Service
There is now a new streamlined appeal procedure for Householders. Appeals must now be made within 12 weeks, with the Planning Inspectorate making the decision within 8 weeks. The new system is mandatory for householder applications.
Changes to Hearing and Inquiry Documents
Parties to an appeal will no longer be able to submit final comments for Hearings or Inquiries at the nine week stage. In addition, the Statement of Common Ground must be agreed and submitted at the 6 week stage.
Correction of Errors
The Inspectorate will no longer need permission to correct a minor error in a Planning Inspector’s decision under what is known as the Slip Rule’ (i.e. a minor error that does not materially affect the decision).
Keeping to Timetable
The need to keep to the timetable issued at the start of the appeal process is re-emphasised, as is the need to continue dialogue to establish the relevant issues.
At last! Some changes to the planning regime which have the genuine potential to speed up the process without compromising the quality of decision making – or do they? There is much to commend the latest changes in appeals procedures and the accompanying award of costs circular. The removal of householder appeals into a streamlined bespoke service, with a 12 week deadline to appeal and an 8 week turnaround, will hopefully make the planning system less frustrating for “one time” users. This has to be a good thing for the reputation of the whole profession.
For those that work within the system on a “professional” basis, there is also much to be welcomed. The extension of cost awards to include Written Representations procedures should remove many appeals currently in the more time consuming and resource hungry Hearings route. This in turn will lead to efficient use of Inspector’s time. The abbreviation of timescales at Hearing and Inquiry stage should also encourage appellants to thoroughly establish their full case at application – again this can only benefit all parties involved.
The other key change – PINS deciding the method of appeal (Written Representations, Hearing or Inquiry) – may avoid unnecessary or vexatious use of the Hearing and Inquiry options. The emphasis will still be on appellants and local planning authorities to agree the preferred choice of appeal method, but the final decision will be with PINS.
Whilst there is an ability to “question” PINS’ decision about method, (and a formal review process within PINS exists), time will tell how reasonably this power is exercised.
Finally, to Statements of Common Ground. It appears that PINS are keen to place far more emphasis on Statements of Common Ground. These are considered, if used properly, to have the potential to materially narrow down the issues for debate at Hearing or Inquiry. Failure to participate fully in production of a Statement of Common Ground may well be considered grounds for an award of costs in itself. It is not clear though, how parties to an appeal or an inspector will be able to respond to third party issues raised during a Hearing or Inquiry, if they object to issues already “agreed” between the principal parties, and for which no evidence has therefore been prepared. Will new evidence be allowed this late in the process?
Generally, these changes are to be welcomed. They have the potential to reduce an unnecessary burden on PINS, to the benefit of all involved in the system. The emphasis will increasingly be on applicants to get their homes fully in order at the application stage – as the opportunity to introduce new information at appeal is reduced.
Keith Fenwick - Director
0121 410 2703
020 7499 1982