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Planning Inspectorate insists appeal delays have been sorted

Published: Thursday, 28th July 2016

The agency’s latest annual report acknowledges that in several areas of the planning appeals service the organisation fell short of meeting its targets…

Sarah Richards the new chief executive for the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has insisted that the agency is “well advanced” with its actions designed to resolve the problems faced by some customers who experienced significant delays with PINS appeals service during the last financial year, 2015/16.

In the Inspectorate’s latest annual report, just published, the chief executive admitted “in several areas of our planning appeals service, we fell well short of our targets, and in many cases, our customers experienced significant delays”.

Richards argued that PINS did the right thing by admitting these failings publicly. “We are well advanced with the actions needed to resolve the problems. We have made progress, but there’s more to do”.

The report said the handling of appeal casework became a major issue as a result of inaccurate resource planning, staff not having the right skill sets to carry out the work, managers not motivating staff to achieve results and incorrect forecasting of expected workload.

This led to the failure to achieve published targets which undermined customer satisfaction and risked the agency’s reputation and ministerial confidence in it.

For a significant part of the year there were delays in validating new appeals and formally starting the appeal process with appellants waiting considerably longer than the target of seven days. Enforcement cases and tree preservation order work were particularly badly affected.

A recovery plan was instigated which meant that by the final quarter of the year there was a month-on-month improvement for the majority of the cases. Over the year PINS recruited 79 new inspectors and used non-salaried inspectors more flexibly.

On the plus side the annual report highlighted that the proportion of appeals meeting the Planning Guarantee increased from almost 85 per cent to over 93 per cent.

In addition all Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) casework met the statutory targets, including the fiftieth NSIP to be decided since the start of the Planning Act (2008) regime.

Also all development plans and community Infrastructure levy schedules were examined within agreed timescales.

In Wales, the Inspectorate exceeded tighter targets of 85 per cent for both planning and enforcement appeals.

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Roger Milne