Planning appeals: are they fair?

If your local plannng authority won’t grant you planning permission, you can appeal.  But what does that actually mean?

Well, your appeal goes theoretically to “The Secretary of State”, i.e. the Government minister in charge of the relevant department, which is currently the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.  In practice, however, appeals go to a planning inspector, appointed by the Planning Inspectorate.

It’s worth pointing out that there is more than one type of planning appeal. Most common, probably, are appeals under s. 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. You can appeal if the local planning authority refuses planning permission, or grants it subject to conditions (which you object to) or fails to reach a decision. You can also appeal under other provisions in the 1990 Act, including s. 174 (enforcement notices), s. 195 (certificates of lawful use), s. 208 (replacement of trees), and s. 106B (planning obligations).

For most appeals, the Secretary of State (see above) chooses the procedure which will apply, in accordance with s. 319A of the 1990 Act,  the choices being:

  • a local inquiry
  • a hearing
  • written representations

Most appeals are dealt with by means of written representations, in accordance with a tight timetable set by the Town and Country Planning (Appeals) (Written Representations Procedure) (England) Regulations 2009, as amended.

If there is to be a hearing, the procedure is governed by the Town and Country Planning (Hearings Procedure) (England) Rules 2000.  These provide for the procedure to be informal, and for the planning inspector to “lead a discussion”.    A local inquiry can be held if there is a need for evidence to be given under oath though this will be the exception rather than the rule.

Appeals under s. 106B of the 1990 Act — that is, appeals against a local authority’s refusal to discharge or amend a planning obligation — are different. The timetable mentioned above does not apply.  There is a right to be heard at a hearing before a planning inspector, and there is no legal basis for the “leading-a-discusion” procedure, though the Planning Inspectorate does nonetheless seek to apply these restrictions and acts unlawfully in doing so.

Is this all reasonable and fair, or are the odds somewhat stacked?  An appellant does of course get the chance to put his or her case, but for most appeals that will have to be in writing only.  Exceptionally, if there is a live hearing, an appellant may be able to speak;  but what he or she is able to say will be limited by the discussion which the planning inspector is leading.

It’s not ideal from the point of view of an appellant.  To get the best from the system, professional assistance is advisable.