Expansion of fast-track major planning process to start early next year, says PINS chief

Developers will be able to request that major business and commercial applications are determined under the fast-track major infrastructure regime from the beginning of next year, according to the boss of the Planning Inspectorate (PINS).

Planning Inspectorate chief executive Sir Michael Pitt
Planning Inspectorate chief executive Sir Michael Pitt

Speaking to Planning, Sir Michael Pitt, the inspectorate’s outgoing chief executive, said "the earliest expectation" was that the change would come in to force at that point.

He said secondary legislation had to be laid down first but only a small number of projects were expected to take that route.

The two categories of major business and commercial projects were added to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project process, in which large projects are determined by PINS rather than local authorities, as part of the Growth and Infrastructure Act.

Pitt also spoke about the new speeded-up planning appeals process which was introduced by the inspectorate on 1 October.

Under the streamlined process, applicants have to submit a full statement of case at the start of the process.

PINS has promised to hold 80 per cent of hearings in 10 weeks and 80 per cent of one-to-two-day inquiries in 16 weeks.

A PINS spokesman said it has received 43 applications so far.

Pitt said: "The first signs are very encouraging. I’m pleased to say that the appellants have been able to provide extra documentation so we’ve been able to accept those appeals straight away."

Pitt said he expected casework to be handled more quickly than before and the new system to help PINS "become a more efficient organisation".

Among the other new responsibilities PINs will have to take on under the Growth Act is handling planning applications from councils the government considers to be poorly-performing and are placed in special measures.

Pitt said an announcement on which authorities would be in this category would be made "very shortly"

He said a five-man team based in Bristol, all with development control experience in local authorities, would process any applications that come their way.

"We can flexibly increase that number if the workload says so," Pitt added.

He said senior inspectors would be chosen from the area of the application site to make decisions over them.

And PINS would "work very closely with the local authority" which will undertake the consultation ahead of the application’s determination.

Pitt said he expected the number of such applications to come PINS’ way to "be relatively small", pointing out that they would have to be major schemes and the local authority would only be bypassed if the developer chose to do so.

To deal with all its extra responsibilities, which also include re-negotiating affordable housing agreements between developers and councils, the government has provided extra resources for PINS this year, Pitt said, to the tune of £6 million.

"We are quite confident we will not need as much as that," he said.

He said PINS had built its up staff in the last six months to deal with the additional workload but Pitt expected activity to drop off in about a year’s time.

Pitt said: "We think we have to be ready for a surge of activity as those new arrangements come into force.

"We see this as a big responsibility and are taking it very seriously indeed."

The delay in dealing with planning appeal applications, Pitt said, had been "virtually" cleared away in the past two months. He said new requirements introduced by the National Planning Policy Framework, in which parties had to submit more evidence, had created the backlog.

john.geoghegan@haymarket.com


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