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Changes to planning appeals process in England published

Out-Law News | 22 Aug 2019 | 4:10 pm | 2 min. read

Changes designed to speed up planning inquiry appeals in England have been published by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS).

While the increase in speed of appeals was welcomed by planning expert Nicholle Kingsley of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, there is concern at the practical implications of some of the changes.

"The time taken for appeal inquiries from submission of the appeal to receipt of a decision has been far too long for many years so the new quicker process is very welcome news," said Kingsley. "However, the rigidity with which PINS is imposing inquiry dates and the short timescales for document submission has already caused a number of issues on all sides."

summary of the changes to the general procedural guide on planning appeals outlines that bespoke inquiry timetables have been entirely deleted, with PINS now setting much quicker inquiry dates and early case management conferences. 

For those inquiries submitted after the action plan was issued in April changes have had an incremental effect and have caused some diary management issues for expert witnesses and legal teams, Kingsley said.

Landowners and developers making appeals have in some cases already incurred additional cost in appointing entirely new teams where diaries are already booked by other inquiries, while some local authorities struggle with shorter timescales with already very limited resources available," she said. "It is expected, though, that the certainty of a decision within six months of submitting an appeal will for all parties outweigh these difficulties."

The 10 day prior notification requirement was introduced in June and is now reflected in the updated procedural guidance and summary programme. 

As part of the changes, PINS has introduced new procedural changes on documents which are required to be submitted setting out the case for the appeal and the areas of common ground between the parties, known as a statement of case (SoC) and statement of common ground (SoCG)..

The new guidance on SOCs says that they should now include a summary of discussions on areas of dispute and overall conclusions; identify any missing policies; set out how the evidence can be tested, and describe "any other material considerations". This is in addition to addressing each of the reasons for refusal; responding to comments by interested parties, covering all relevant facts and documents that will be referred to, and planning or legal arguments that will be used. For local authorities there is a requirement to identify 'Rule 6 parties', people who qualify as having an interest in the case, and a restriction in introducing additional policies or raising new issues.

SOCGs must now include a greater focus on areas of uncommon ground and more detailed topic-specific statements of agreed common/uncommon ground if requested by the inquiry inspector in the early stages of the case.  SOCGs must also now be in a recommended format which includes a list of possible conditions; draft heads of terms for the section 106 agreement, and a statement of policy compliance for section 106 purposes.