HC Deb 22 February 1966 vol 725 cc52-3W
66. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many planning appeals are now in his Department awaiting his decision; what is the average time which now elapses between receipt of an appeal by his Department and the communicating of his decision to those concerned; how these figures compare with those of 18 months ago; and what steps he is taking to reduce delay in dealing with these appeals.

Mr. Crossman

I am glad to have the opportunity to correct and amplify the figures which I gave in the Adjournment debate on 7th February. There are 8,500 appeals in my Department awaiting determination. The average time between receipt and decision is now 44 weeks for appeals which go to inquiry, and 32 for those settled on written representations. Comparable figures for 18 months ago were 7,200, 32 and 30.

I am very concerned about these figures. They reflect a continuing high intake of appeals, which is producing a cumulative burden of work. Over 13,000 appeals in England were received during 1965.

The main cause of delay in dealing with appeals is the absolute shortage of inspectors, a result of the general shortage of professional manpower. An examination has recently been made of the possibility of making fuller and more economical use of the time of the existing inspectors; and in addition consideration has been given to broadening the field of recruitment. Although professional qualifications are an advantage, and sometimes a necessity for an inspector holding many types of planning appeal, there is scope, over some parts of the field, for using men who are not professionally qualified but who have had experience in the operation of judicial and quasi-judicial tribunals. Recruitment of such people for training as inspectors will start shortly.

Further, two special branches have been set up in the Department to speed up the handling of appeals; and I am encouraging more people to dispense with an inquiry and have their appeals decided on the basis of written statements. The proportion of cases decided in this way has risen from 36 per cent. in 1963 to 45½ per cent. in 1965. These various measures should help; but they will not cure the trouble. In view of the widespread dissatisfaction at these delays, which I share, I am considering more radical changes in the methods dealing with planning appeals. These would, however, require legislation.