UK: DEPA Review

Last Updated: 12 October 2011
Article by Murray Shaw

The annual review from the Directorate for Planning & Environmental Appeals (DPEA) always makes interesting reading.  This year however it is of particular interest as the period it covers (2010/2011) is the first full year (as the review itself points out) during which the reforms to the planning system have been fully in effect.  The changes are reflected in the statistics which are included in the report.

The review is primarily authored by the new Director and Chief Reporter, Lindsey Nicoll.  Her introductory statement comments on the changes which have been made and indeed the proactive work which had been undertaken by the DPEA to obtain feedback in relation to what they have been doing and how they do it.

The review itself appears to reflect the much more open and transparent approach which the DPEA has adopted.  Reference is made to the stakeholder group which it has set up (to discuss issues) and the surveys which it has carried out in relation to the areas it deals with.  The review document itself feels more informal with comments from two Reporters in one of the appendices about the nature of the role they as individuals fulfil and what that means to them.

Possibly the most interesting information however in the report can be found in the statistics which are included in various appendices.  In 2010/2011 the DPEA received 563 cases. This is approximately half the numbers they received in the preceding period and a third of the numbers they received just 5 years ago.  That reduction is probably a reflection of two factors as the report itself points out namely, the change to the system and the economic position of the country.  As a consequence of the changes brought in the DPEA has no jurisdiction to deal with any appeals if they are relating to "local" developments and decided in terms of the relevant Schem of Delegation.  (Hierarchy and Scheme of Delegation Development Management – The Final Part of the Jigsaw).  The report acknowledges the effect of the economic position of the country.  Certainly the numbers of planning applications made are significantly down.  It is impossible from the figures however to work out to what extent the very significant reduction is caused by the changes in the system as opposed to the economic position of the country – probably primarily the former however.

The majority of appeals are still planning permission appeals and it is in that area that the most significant percentage reduction can be seen – planning permission appeals are down by some 65% over the preceding year.  By contrast the number of enforcement appeals is steady and the reduction in other types of appeal is not so marked.  Indeed there is a slight increase in some types of appeal (notably Development Plan – see below), but also in the category simply identified as "other".  These include appeals under other legislation and therefore likely to include wind farm appeals made under the Electricity Act rather than the planning legislation (though see below). 

The relevant appendix also includes a breakdown of the types of appeals.  From that, there is probably some evidence of the effect of the economic situation with a reduction in a number of the commercial categories, though it is probably not possible to be specific about the impact of the downturn in the economy from the figures available.  Interestingly enough there is a significant reduction in the number of energy development applications made, possibly reflecting an unwillingness to "invest" in an expensive appeal process in the current economic climate, notwithstanding the significant financial benefits that can arise from a wind farm development.  It is not immediately clear how this statistic relates to the increase in the "other" category referred to above.  The explanation may simply be that wind farm schemes are getting bigger taking them out of the planning regime into the jurisdiction of the Electricity Act.

As the report itself points out, the success rate of appeals is 45% in the round in relation to appeals.  There is a higher rate of success in respect of cases where there had not been an appeal (such as called in decisions and compulsory purchase cases).  The success rate in appeal cases is higher than it has been in previous years which are the report points out may well be a reflection of the fact that given the cost of appealing only those cases with a higher degree of potential success are being pursued. 

One interesting table is Table 5 which shows the number of appeals decided in respect of each planning authority and those which were successful.  There are very significant differences between the planning authorities as to their success (in effect) in defending appeals.  For example in relation to East Ayrshire and South Ayrshire the rate of success looking at matters from the perspective of appellants (albeit on a relatively modest number of appeals) is 50% or more as it also is for East Dunbartonshire, Stirling, East Lothian and Falkirk.  It is also interesting to note that Edinburgh had significantly more appeals than Glasgow, with Glasgow being marginally more successful it would appear based upon the statistics in defending appeals than Edinburgh.  The reason for these differences can only be speculated upon – there is no information in the report to help with that (not surprisingly). 

The report also provides information in relation to Local Plan procedures.  It is clear that for most Local Plans now there is a team of Reporters deployed to deal with matters.  The time taken to complete the report also appears to be falling though it is probably premature to derive a trend from the information which is available (given its limitations). 

Information is also provided in relation to the DPEA's own  performance against targets which generally appears to be good. 

The report shows that inquiries are few and far between with any oral process normally taking the form of a hearing.  Many cases are dealt with following upon a site inspection (typically householder developments).  In a couple of cases there was no further procedure at all which presumably means these were effectively rejected.  No information is given about the basis of rejection.  It may be assumed that these are cases however where it was clear they were without merit rather than being cases which wrongly came to the DPEA (there have been a degree of confusion in some instances about where the right of appeal lies). 

All in all the report provides some interestingly information for those involved in the planning process.  It will be interesting to see whether the trends that this report reveals continue going forward.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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