Call for action on ‘age-old problem’ of planning appeal delays

Planning lawyers have demanded government action to reduce the time it takes to challenge planning decisions.

In response to a written question, housing minister Stuart Andrew revealed that it currently takes an average of 29 weeks to appeal against a planning authority’s decision against a development.

For appeals against enforcement decisions the time increases to an average of 43 weeks.

Ashurst partner and co-head of planning Claire Dutch said delays to planning appeals are an “age-old problem” facing the sector.

Although she doesn’t think the delay has much of an impact on the government’s housebuilding targets, she said cuts to the planning sector meant that teams had become extremely stretched and funding is needed to improve the delay times.

“The one thing that could help above all else is more resources in local government,” she added. “We need more resources and more manpower, so bodies on the ground who are processing these applications [are] not just very junior planning officers on temporary contracts but senior, quality people. Local authorities don’t have that.”

Dutch said a lot of good planning officers end up getting hired by the private sector instead. “The morale has been sucked out of public service, particularly from planning departments.”

Fieldfisher planning team director Dinah Patel said delays to planning appeals represented “one of the major operational failings” of the planning system.

Andrew’s predecessor as housing minister, Christopher Pincher, wrote to Planning Inspectorate chief executive Sarah Richards in January with a long-term plan to consider all planning appeals within four to eight weeks.

“Targets for shorter waiting times are to be welcomed – long waits for appeal decisions are frustrating for all parties,” Patel said. But she added: “The questions now are what next from the government and when will the process finally speed up?”

The government introduced the Levelling-up and Urban Regeneration Bill to the Commons this month in a bid to improve the planning process, but Dutch said it was another example of the government “tinkering with the system”.

“By and large, [that is] making it more complicated,” she added. “This also puts extra pressure on local authorities to get to grips with new systems, new procedures and new law, and, really, what we should do is just plough more money into local authorities, and look at ways of making planning and construction respected professions.”

When contacted for comment, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities referred Construction News to the Planning Inspectorate’s comment.

A spokesperson for the Planning Inspectorate said the organisation was focused on infrastructure, local plans and appeals by hearing and inquiry, as they are the “cases which generally have most community interest and potential economic impact”.

“Planning hearings received since 1 April are now being handled in a similar way to inquiries and are on track to have decisions in 24-26 weeks,” they added.

“We are also working at increasing the number of decisions in other areas, which will help us [to] speed them up in time.”

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