The statistics on planning appeal average handling times were updated by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) this week. They set out the average time taken to handle appeals determined during the last month, breaking down the timescales according to the various stages of the appeal up to the point that the decision is made.
Written representation appeals in the latest figures, which are updated monthly, took on average 24 weeks to determine, they show. This is up from 20 weeks in figures from October and more than the overall average of 18.1 weeks for the 2016-17 financial year.
Appeals decided by written representation also take an average of ten weeks from receipt of the appeal to the ‘start date’, at which point the inspector has been appointed and letters are sent out to appellants to call for the submission of representations.
However, the figures show an improvement in the time taken to determine appeals conducted via inquiries. In October, the processing of these cases took on average 67 weeks, with 15 weeks taken to get to the start of the process. The latest figures show that the average time for inquiry appeal handling is down to 47 weeks, with nine weeks taken to get to the start date.
Overall time taken to process appeals conducted via hearings has gone down slightly since the October figures from 38 to 37 weeks.
"The statistics go up and down according to the nature of the work, but sitting back there’s clear room for improvement," said Simon Ricketts, partner at law firm Town Legal. "There’s no way it should be taking ten weeks for the average written representation appeal to get to the start date."
A spokesperson for the Planning Inspectorate said: "We have significantly reduced the time it takes to validate cases – now around one week - and changes we have made to our processes mean that once an inspector has been appointed most planning appeal decisions will be made within 14 weeks.
"We seek to carefully match inspector resource to demand, and we have recently recruited and are continuing to recruit more inspectors to meet demand. As a result of other process changes, inquiry performance has also significantly improved. We continue to change the way we work to try and meet our customers’ expectations."
The inspectorate’s targets, as set out in its annual report published in July, are for 80 per cent of written representation and hearing appeals to be processed within 14 weeks and 80 per cent of inquiry appeals to be processed within 22 weeks. The latest statistics do not report on performance against these figures.
In last year’s Housing White Paper, the government mooted the prospect of introducing fees for launching planning appeals. "My clients would largely be very much in favour of paying if that makes for a quicker process, because these figures cannot be justified," said Ricketts.