The Planning Inspectorate’s Statement, 25th March 2020

Posted 08/04/2020

Planning Law solicitor, Steven Hopkins, discusses.

On 25th March 2020 The Planning Inspectorate (“PINS”) issued a statement on the impact that the Government’s measures for tackling Covid-19 would have on planning appeals. The keys points from PINS statement are:

  • PINS offices in Temple Quay House are closed and all staff, including Inspectors, have been instructed not to travel for work.
  • Therefore, no site visits, hearings or inquiries will take place.
  • PINS will be considering:
    • Site visits: whether there are types of cases that can proceed without undertaking a visit.
    • Inquiries and hearings: whether it might be feasible to utilise technological solutions to enable events to proceed.

As hearings and Inquiries are public events PINS must ensure fairness for all parties, especially third parties.  In some cases, the Inspector might invite the parties to consider whether the case can be decided on the basis of written submissions following questions that she or he might raise.

The practical impact on planning appeals

Following the issuing of the statement, I myself experienced a number of site inspections being cancelled, a hearing being cancelled, and the listing of a Public Inquiry being delayed. In practice, the likely impact on the appeal process will be that:

  • Where a Public Inquiry is adjourned, the deadline for exchange of proofs of evidence will change accordingly. If proofs have already been exchanged, they may need to be updated at a later date.
  • The relisting of adjourned Public Inquiries and hearings will place a greater burden on an already delayed and creaking appeal system.
  • Where written representations have been exchanged there may a considerable delay for the Inspector to carry out a site inspection and issue a decision, as site visits are not possible at the current time.

Will this lead to an opportunity to modernise the appeal process?

In its statement PINS makes specific mention of considering whether it might be feasible to utilise technological solutions to enable events to proceed.

It is clear from the government’s advice that the current pandemic will not be over in a few weeks. At best it will suppress the normal functioning of society for many months. Michael Harman’s article on the impact on the Courts outlines the Lord Chief Justice’s approach that we all need to recognise that we will be using technology to conduct business “Otherwise, there will be no [court] hearings and access to justice will become a mirage”.

The Planning Court and the Court of Appeal has already embraced this technology with applications already being conducted by telephone and “Skype”. Further, as mentioned in Jo Lilliott’s article, the Coronavirus Act s78 makes provisions for Planning Committee meetings to be conducted by remote conferencing.

Therefore, we will soon be in a situation where the decisions under challenge to the PINS are from decision makers that are utilising technological solutions, and the appeals and applications arising from PINS decisions are dealt with by Courts also embracing that technology. PINS will be under increasing pressure to follow suit.

PINS is intending to run a pilot scheme of a small number of less complex Inquiries by remote conferencing. There is no detail on this as yet.     

Steven Hopkins

Posted 08/04/2020 by:
Steven Hopkins
Partner and Head of Planning & Development Team

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