PINS halves appeals backlog after inspector recruitment drive

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has halved a backlog of appeal cases since the start of the year, while appeal decisions hit another record high in the most recent quarter, according to the organisation's latest performance update.

The Planning Inspectorate's head office in Bristol
The Planning Inspectorate's head office in Bristol

PINS attributed its progress to a recruitment drive that has seen 67 inspectors appointed this year, which is said has allowed the most complex outstanding appeals to be assigned to the most experienced staff members.

"Since the beginning of the year this has reduced the number of older cases in the system by 50 per cent," the inspectorate said.

Around 3,700 appeal decisions have been issued in the last three months, between July and September, the agency said. "This is the highest number for the second quarter running this year."

This compares to 3,437 appeals decided by PINS between April and June, which was a record high at the time.

According to the performance update, 42 per cent of written representation appeals were decided within 18 weeks in September, compared to 12 per cent in October 2018.

PINS aims to decide 80 per cent of written representation appeals within 14 weeks but did not publish its performance against this benchmark.

Acknowledging that the time taken to deal with enforcement appeals "is not meeting expectations", PINS said it has appointed more than 20 inspectors and case officers to work on such cases.

"We expect that new [enforcement] appeals, from January 2020 that follow the written representations procedure, will meet our current target of 36 weeks," it said.

PINS pointed to expected improvements resulting from structural changes such as "a slimmed down, more effective management team" and "inspector and case work teams working together at the very the start of an appeal".

The inspectorate said it expects further improvements to its service once an online appeals portal is put in place. Earlier this month, the inspectorate said it expects the portal to be formally launched in June next year.

The portal is currently being trialled across 27 local authorities in East Sussex, West Sussex and Kent.

"As the service is tested and improved, we will be expanding the number of appeals processed via the service," PINS said.

Implementation of an appeals portal was one of 22 recommendations made by economist Bridget Rosewell following her review of the appeal inquiries process.

In May this year, PINS warned of a "sizeable transition period" before it expected to fully implement the Rosewell Review’s recommendations.

An analysis article looking at why appeal decisions by PINS have recently increased can be found here.

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