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Public Local Inquiries

Volume 268: debated on Thursday 7 December 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will set out the time scale for inquiries under the Town and Country Planning Act recommended in the inquiries procedure rules; and if he will make a statement on the Planning Inspectorate's ability to meet this time scale. [4205]

[holding answer 5 December 1995]: The provision of information on public local inquiries is the responsibility of the Planning Inspectorate. I have asked the inspectorate's chief executive to write to the hon. Member.

Letter from James Greenfield to Mr. John Austin-Walker, dated 5 December 1995:

The Secretary of State asked the Chief Planning Inspector to reply to your question about the timescale for inquiries under the Town and Country Planning Act recommended in the Inquiries Procedure Rules, and the Planning Inspectorate's ability to meet this timescale. Mr. Shepley is away from the office at this time, and I am writing on his behalf.
In the case of planning appeals and planning applications called-in for the Secretary of State's decision, the Inquiries Procedure Rules state that the inquiry shall be not later than 20 weeks or 22 weeks respectively after the relevant start date for the case, unless such a date is impracticable.Generally, the earliest possible date for an inquiry to be arranged is about 14 weeks after the relevant date (16 weeks or more for called-in applications), allowing the parties adequate time to submit and exchange statements and prepare proofs of evidence within the recommended timescales.
There is a general delay in arranging dates for these inquiries caused by the need to provide Inspectors for development plan inquiries. The Planning and Compensation Act 1991 required mandatory district wide plans to be published by local authorities, so that future development control decisions were made in accordance with the plans, unless material considerations indicated otherwise. Ministers expectations were that all plans would be in place, by the end of 1996. Extra Inspectors have been recruited, but are undergoing an extensive training programme before they become fully effective.
Within the Inspectorate's published Business Plan there are a number of performance targets, many of which are measured against the time taken to complete 80% of our caseloads. The latest statistics show that during September, 80% of the dates for inquiries proposed by the Inspectorate to the parties were made within 40 weeks of the relevant dates. The earliest date proposed was made in week 18, and the latest date in week 51. The average waiting time for an inquiry date was 35 weeks.