In his Autumn Statement speech last week, Osborne insisted that the reforms set out in the coalition's controversial draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) "strike the right balance between protecting our countryside while permitting economic development". But he added: "We need to go further to remove the lengthy delays and high costs of the current system."
The Autumn Statement document reveals that the government will review planning appeals procedures, "seeking to make the process faster and more transparent, improve consistency and increase certainty of decision timescales". Proposals will be brought forward for implementation next summer, the document says.
The National Infrastructure Plan, published alongside the Autumn Statement, says that work to "speed up" the appeals process would focus on the scope to "streamline" the set of rules that regulate public local inquiries.
Leonora Rozee, former deputy chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate (PINS), said: "There is potential for streamlining and improving consistency. There are aspects, including the inquiry process, which could be looked at again."
But she warned that time must be allowed to fully examine the issues. "The determinant should not just be the time it takes," she said. "It should be about the quality of the process, particularly in making sure that the voices that need to be heard are heard."
Nigel Hewitson, planning partner at law firm Norton Rose, said it would be tricky to streamline the appeals process at a time when the inspectorate is having to make cutbacks. He said: "It's difficult to see how you can speed up and improve the appeals service when PINS is having to make significant cuts in its budget."
The Autumn Statement also says that agencies that play a key role in advising on planning applications, such as the Environment Agency and English Heritage, would be handed a new duty to "promote sustainable development".
Richard Blyth, head of policy and practice at the Royal Town Planning Institute, called for clarity on how the government had defined the phrase "sustainable development" in the document. In October, the RTPI called on the government to define sustainable development within the NPPF.
"That phrase has tended to mean different things to different people," Blyth said. "We'll need to find out what definition they are using."
The Autumn Statement adds that measures will be brought forward to "ensure that there is a more effective mechanism for applicants obtaining an award of costs, if there is an appeal against a refusal of a planning permission, where a statutory consultee has acted unreasonably".
The Autumn Statement 2011 can be viewed via PlanningResource.co.uk/go/referencesection
See News Analysis, p6.