§ Mr. Chapman
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now publish the results of the efficiency scrutiny carried out by his Department into the planning appeals system, including the action plan setting out the objectives for reducing median times for handling appeals.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
[pursuant to the reply, 6 May 1986, c. 64]: I have approved the publication of the report of an efficiency scrutiny into the handling of written representations planning appeals and the Department's action plan setting out detailed proposals to improve processing times. Copies have been placed in the Library of the House and will be sent to each local authority.
The report identifies a potential reduction in median handling times from the present 19 weeks to 11 weeks by the end of 1988.
Time savings will flow from measures:
- 1. to change the initial procedure so that work on the local authority input can be started up to two weeks earlier; this has already been implemented;
- 2. to encourage improved communication between councils and appellants with clearer decision and grounds of appeal;
- 3. to set target timetable early in the appeal process; this will give appellants more certainty;
- 4. to increase personal responsibility within the inspectorate and substantially reduce checking. This will accelerate the issue of decision letters by up to two weeks. This has already been implemented;
- 5. to invest in information technology to speed up the production and issue of appeal decision letters.
The report makes clear that maximum acceleration will not be achieved without:
- 1. co-operation from the parties; the Department accepts the responsibility to ensure the parties are aware of the need to change current attitude and practices; to this end it will provide advice and guidances, but it will also provide necessary statutory provision to discipline the process;
- 2. adequate manpower, in particular extra inspectors, to cope with the surge of cases in the inspectorate which will result from accelerating the process.
The Government accept all the main recommendations of the report. Full details are in the action plan published with the efficiency scrutiny.367W
In the near future I will publish proposals to speed up the handling of inquiry appeals. However, it should be noted the measures outlined above will also be effective in reducing inquiry appeal processing times.