PINS to get more staff for major infrastructure projects

The government is planning to increase the number of Planning Inspectorate (PINS) staff devoted to dealing with major infrastructure projects by more than half, the planning minister has revealed.

Question: Roberta Blackman-Woods
Question: Roberta Blackman-Woods

Figures, revealed by Nick Boles in Parliament this week, show that PINS would be provided with the equivalent of 134 full-time staff to deal with nationally important infrastructure projects (NSIPs) in 2013/14.

This compares to 88 in the current 2012/13 financial year and 52 in previous financial year, though these staff were working for the now-abolished Infrastructure Planning Commission in 2011/12, which was absorbed into PINS in April.

The news comes as an impact assessment for the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, published this week, stated that PINS would get more resources to deal with the extra work it would take on under the bill’s proposals, including viability specialists.

Boles revealed the figures in a written statement in response to a question from the shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods who asked for an estimate of what extra resources the inspectorate needed.

The minister also said that the number of PINS staff dealing with Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charging schedules would go up from about three this financial year to 4.5 next year, while those examining local plans would rise from about 28.5 to 29.5.

He said the figures for 2012/13 and 2013/14 were projections made in PINS’ most recent staffing estimates.

In his answer, Boles said the increase in national infrastructure work reflected the increase in NSIP applications "as a consequence of the Planning Act 2008", which created the fast-track major infrastructure process.

These details were not included in PINS’ annual report and accounts for 2011/12, published in July.
These showed that the average number of people permanently employed in full-time equivalent posts at the inspectorate in 2011/12 was 593 - down 13.6 per cent on 2010/11, when the figure was 686.

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill envisages handing more powers to PINS, including taking over the determination of planning applications from "poorly-performing" councils, dealing with large commercial and business projects as part of the NSIP process and re-negotiating section 106 planning gain agreements where applicants consider they make development unviable.

Following concerns raised about how PINS would deal with the increased workload, the bill’s impact assessment states: "It is the intention to resource the Planning Inspectorate adequately to deal with the additional work and this will include specialist viability advice where it is required."

In a statement Blackman-Woods said: "Whilst it is very reassuring to see that the Planning Inspectorate will be taking on additional staff to deal with the increase in their responsibilities, the question remains as to the extra resources that the Planning Inspectorate will require."

Blackman-Woods added that she would be asking for a full breakdown of the cost of the extra staff and resources for PINS. She said: "We will also be monitoring very closely the resourcing of both the Planning Inspectorate and local authorities to ensure that resources are not being diverted away from local planning departments and impeding their ability to deliver essential services".

The full details of the PINS staffing numbers can be found here.

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill impact assessment can be found here.

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