UK: No Steady State Yet In PINS Annual Report

Last Updated: 16 July 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on the recently published 2012-13 annual report of the Planning Inspectorate from a national infrastructure perspective.

Last week, the 2012-13 annual report of the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) was published and it can be found here.

Although of course it covers all of PINS' work, the 'National Infrastructure' parts of it can be compared with the last report of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, published a year ago and the subject of this blog entry.

As Sir Michael Pitt says in his introduction, the year started with the merger of the Planning Inspectorate and the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which was indeed seamless, but be aware that 'the revolution continues' towards achieving 'an outstanding national planning and appeals service which enjoys the confidence and respect of Ministers, the public and all stakeholders'.

Sir Michael highlights the following forthcoming changes:

  • this month - extending the right of appeal where an applicant contests the amount of information required by the local planning authority
  • second half of 2013 - extending the Planning Act 2008 regime to business and commercial projects
  • October 2013 - initial designation of poor performing local authorities, i.e. the 'special measures' provision
  • October 2013 - introducing a Commercial Appeals Service, extending the Household Appeals Service to another category of applications
  • (later in document) April 2014 - PINS to reissue its best practice advice in the light of the Taylor Review of guidance

Financials

The report reveals that PINS spent £5,768,000 on National Infrastructure and received £3,172,000 from it, i.e. in fees - the disagreement over fee calcuations is mentioned in the 'governance' section.  The expenditure figure is about 12% of the total for PINS, but the income is about 27% of the total.  More Planning Act applications would clearly be good for PINS' accounts!

A footnote says that 'this is a relatively new area of work for which cost recovery is not expected until 2014/15'.  I take that to mean that they are intending to break even in two years' time, which is interesting.  The expenditure total is about £0.5m lower than last year, despite the increasing caseload.

Governance

A scheme of delegation was set up in July 2012 to allow Planning Act matters to be delegated from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to Sir Michael.

Delegations were also obtained from the Department for Transport and the Department for Energy and Climate Change in respect of 'section 127 applications' (i.e. for taking statutory undertakers' land) but the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has decided not to do this and consider each application separately.  Not ideal - I was present when this happened on one application towards the end of a hearing.  The need for these applications is being phased out, however, so it's not a major issue.

Digital

Referring to the government's 'Digital by Default' policy, the report says 'The streamlined NSIP process made significant use of electronic exchanges, including the ability to submit applications and associated documentation over the internet.' I'm not sure that PINS have accepted or even can accept applications over the Internet alone, though.

They say they have over 740 followers on twitter, but I'm not sure what account that is referring to - PINS don't seem to have a general one.  It might be the total of all the separate Planning Act application accounts.

Workload

On application stats, PINS say that during the year they made nine recommendations, received applications for 16 projects (careful wording - they received 18 applications, in fact), and received notification of 19 forthcoming projects.  That suggests to me that the 'steady state' of new applications arriving at the same speed as existing ones are dealt with has yet to be reached.

PINS also issued 30 Environmental Impact Assessment scoping opinions and two screening opinions.  That is a doubling of 15 last year, but there were 25 issued in 2010-11.

Targets

The report says that PINS met all the examination and recommendation targets for Planning Act applications.  I have a small quibble with that, which is that the recommendation for the Kentish Flats windfarm extension was issued 3 months and 9 days after the end of the examination, the period having been extended by 14 days (the Kentish Flats windfarm extension extension, if you will).  Having said that, this extension was made under the fees regulations rather than under the main Planning Act.

Some stats such as Freedom of Information requests have been subsumed within the PINS whole, so it is difficult to compare with the previous year, but all in all the figures are looking pretty good and pointing in the right direction.

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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