Ifti Maniar, planning associate for architect and Thames Tap partner WWA, describes how the planning backlog threatens to slow economic recovery. And suggests what the Government needs to do about it.

Is the planning system broken?

Post-Covid-19 pandemic, not only are local authorities extremely busy dealing with a large number of planning applications with limited resources, but the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) is facing the same challenges!

According to its latest performance update, published in May, PINS had 11,184 open cases, its highest number for this year.

Despite PINS delivering more than 700 cases via virtual hearings/inquiries by April 2021, timescales for inquiries hit a peak of 68 weeks in February.

That means average (mean) decision times for planning appeals progressing by hearing is 56 weeks, while for inquiries is 54 weeks.

Due to the lockdown restrictions, many PINS staff took leave over Spring. This, combined with the local elections in May have had an impact on their overall productivity.

PINS’ latest performance update recognised that ‘some appellants have had to wait longer than usual for a decision’.

The statement went on to say that ‘continuing Covid-19 restrictions in place over the past months has meant our ability to visit sites and capacity to run hearings and inquiries has been reduced’, which has meant an ‘increased number of cases that are waiting to start, and consequently longer decision times’.

From our recent experience, the majority of local authorities are taking far more time to determine applications.

If the applicants decide to lodge an appeal (including a non-determination appeal) by way of hearings or inquiries, then it will take at least one more year!

Clearly, the current delay of planning applications/appeals is halting much-needed developments for the post-pandemic recovery and economic growth.

We strongly believe that the Government must invest and attract talented planning staff for both local authorities and PINS to unlock that economic growth.

Applicants also need a planning strategy to deliver the projects within the target budget and timescale.

WWA is well experienced in forming planning strategy to get the best results for our clients. For the latest update on the timescales for the applications and appeals, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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