HC Deb 14 July 1981 vol 8 cc357-8W
Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further action he intends to take to expedite planning appeals.

Mr. Giles Shaw

We have already made great improvements. Although appeals have increased by 35 per cent. in 1980–81, decisions issued have risen by 50 per cent. to 13 ,713. This record achievement reflects a substantial increase in productivity in the Planning Inspectorate.

We are determined to improve speed and efficiency further. With this end in mind we issued last October a consultation paper suggesting various improvements. We also appointed management consultants to examine the inspectorate. My right hon. Friend has now completed his consideration both of the responses to the consultation paper, and of the consultants' report, a copy of which I have arranged to be deposited in the Library of this House.

Regulations to transfer all classes of appeal to Inspectors were announced in a previous reply to my hon. Friend on 16 March—[Vol. 1, c. 46]—and came into operation on 1 July. Other action in hand includes:

  1. i. Moves to get earlier inquiries—we firmly seek the earliest possible inquiry dates and we are pursuing the proposed change to the RTPI charter to allow planners as well as lawyers to act for local planning authorities.
  2. ii. Post-inquiry and site visit procedures—we are streamlining Inspectors' reports and ancillary procedures, where possible, to shorten appeal timescales.
  3. iii. Better caseload forecasting—to help us respond promptly and efficiently to changes in workload.
  4. iv. An improved management reporting system.
  5. v. Various procedural reforms in the Inspectorate.

Other proposals will need further study. Among these are:

  1. i. Informal hearings—we have begun an experiment in informal hearings, designed for those simpler cases where the more elaborate procedure of the full public inquiry may be inappropriate.

Road casualties: Great Britain: 1976–80
1976 1977 1978 1979 1980
Casualties in all road accidents:
Killed 6,570 6,614 6,831 6,352 6,010
Seriously injured 79,531 81,681 82,518 80,544 79,400
Front seat occupants of cars and light vans:
Killed 2,313 2,212 2,403 2,279 2,129
Seriously injured 29,406 28,779 31,234 30,194 28,536

  1. ii. Timetabling written representations—in cases following the written representations procedure protracted exchanges of representations sometimes cause undue delay.
  2. iii. "Instant decisions" for written representations cases—we are examining how to extend the "instant decision" procedure which has worked well in inquiry cases since its introduction last July.
  3. iv. Express appeals—a new fast appeal route, probably with limited representations and for a small class of appeals.
  4. v. Further examination, with local planning authorities, of arrangements for fixing inquiry dates—one of the major causes of delay.
  5. vi. Better information for appellants and local planning authorities—designed to encourage faster processing of appeals.
  6. vii. Various further reforms of organisation and procedure within the Inspectorate.

As we take all this forward we shall consult further as appropriate. Meanwhile, a small team of officials has been visiting a sample of authorities, with the agreement of the local authority associations, to improve the dialogue between us on the handling of planning appeals.

This package of reforms is far-reaching and will take a little time to work through. But I am confident that taken as a whole it will enable us to achieve further substantial improvements in the service provided on planning appeals. Similar changes in planning procedures will also take place in Wales.