Appeals to the Planning Inspectorate were back to pre-pandemic levels in 2021/22, and the number of new cases needing to be heard by inquiry jumped by 38% compared to the year before, new data have revealed.
The Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate, Sarah Richards, reported that the speed of decision-making for the Inspectorate's appeals service is "now steady, and in some areas has improved" after the service slowed during the height of the pandemic.
The data, published as part of the Inspectorate's Annual Report and Accounts for 2021/22, show that almost 9,000 of the 17,400 appeals the Inspectorate decided were planning appeals.
New planning appeals being submitted increased back to pre-pandemic levels and were 4% higher than 2020/21. According to the report, the number of new planning appeal cases submitted needing to be heard by inquiry rose by 38%.
"Despite still working with a reduced capacity caused by COVID-19, we received 21,300 appeals in 2021/22, 6% more than in 2020/21, and close to the pre-pandemic level," the Inspectorate said.
Last year (2021/22), the Inspectorate received 21,305 appeals and decided 17,433 cases - a slight improvement from 2020/21, which saw 20,104 appeals received, and 16,747 cases decided.
In the 2019/20 period, the Inspectorate received 22,097 and decided 22,552 cases.
"As restrictions reduced, we increased the number of decisions we made and decided more cases in 2021/22 than 2020/21. This involved running virtual hearings and inquiries (which took longer than face-to-face equivalents), on top of lockdown measures impacting both employees and customers."
While some decisions were faster than in previous years, on average, the Inspectorate's decisions took longer last year. However, a focus was placed on casework with the most community interest and those key to supporting the nation's economic recovery, such as national infrastructure applications, local plan examinations and appeals needing a hearing or inquiry. It issued 34 reports on Local Plans.
The Planning Inspectorate's report also highlighted its three-year Strategic Plan launched last October which aims to improve the Inspectorate's data capture and analysis, develop its understanding of customer needs, proactively update customers on their cases, and implement a plan to understand and reduce the Inspectorate's environmental impacts, among other policies.
Some additional achievements the Inspectorate’s report claimed from 2021/22 were:
- recruiting more than 50 new inspectors and apprentices
- developing its Customer Strategy to become more customer-focused
- formalising the way that it assures the quality of its decisions and reports
- designing and developing its Digital Public Services
- improving data protection
- improving equality, diversity, and inclusion
- establishing health and safety working groups
Sarah Richards, Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate, said: “Through our use of technology, planning effectively for the future, focused resource management and robust decision making we kept casework moving through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Overall, the speed of decision making for our appeals service is now steady, and in some areas has improved. We have focused our efforts on the areas that are key to the economy.”
The full report can be read here.