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This briefing from the House of Commons Library provides information about planning appeals, chiefly

  • what can be appealed
  • the Secretary of State’s powers to “recover” appeals and
  • other routes for people dissatisfied with planning decisions.

It applies to England only.

Who can and cannot appeal?

There is no third-party right of appeal in planning law. If the local planning authority (LPA) rejects a planning application, then it is only the disappointed applicant who has the right of appeal. Neighbours and others who are concerned about permission granted for local developments do not have a right of appeal.

What can be appealed?

Most planning applications are determined in the first instance by the LPA. If the LPA refuses the application or fails to determine it within a certain time limit, then an appeal is possible.

Appeals are made to the Secretary of State and in practice are determined by a Planning Inspector. Depending on the scale and complexity of the planning application, there are a number of procedures that may be used to determine the appeal. More detailed information about the appeals process is in the Planning Inspectorate’s Procedural Guide: Planning appeals – England.

Planning Inspectors have powers to award costs against the person appealing and the LPA if they believe that either side has behaved unreasonably and caused unnecessary or wasted expense in the process.

Secretary of State power to “recover” appeals for own determination

Although in practice appeals are normally heard by a Planning Inspector, the Secretary of State has powers to “recover” an appeal for his own determination.

Planning Court challenges to planning decisions

The decisions of LPAs can be challenged in the Planning Court by judicial review, under part 54 of the Civil Procedure Rules. There is a strict six-week time limit for applying for judicial review. The challenge cannot be on the planning merits of the case, but instead would be about the lawfulness of the way in which the decision was made.

The Planning Inspector or Secretary of State’s appeal determination is challengeable in the High Court by way of a statutory review.

Review of planning inquiries

Bridget Rosewell CBE chaired an independent review, launched in July 2018 and aimed at halving the time taken to determine planning inquiries (not the generality of appeals). Its call for evidence set out the problems – particularly, the “potential harmful consequences of unnecessary delays” for major housing developments – that the inquiry sought to address. (Local planning authorities made decisions on around 431,000 applications in 2017/18, of which 12% (53,000) were not granted. Provisional statistics for 2017/18 indicate that there were 13,362 appeals received and 10,608 appeals decided in 2017/18 with around one-third of appeals decided being allowed: 3,375 appeals (32%) in 2017/18).

The report was submitted to the Secretary of State in December 2018 and published in February 2019. The review did not recommend “wholesale changes”, as those might be “counterproductive”, but set out recommendations grouped under themes of earlier engagement by all parties, greater certainty about timescales and harnessing technology to improve efficient and transparency. These reforms would (the executive summary said) reduce overall times from receipt to decisions for cases decided by the Inspector to between 24 and 26 weeks, from a current average of 47 weeks.

In the accompanying press release, the Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire, argued that speeding up inquiries could ensure the delivery of homes to meet the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s. (The Government’s most recent figures show a total of 165,610 permanent dwellings completed in England in 2017/18 – an 8% increase on the previous year and the highest figure observed since 2007/08).

Complaints to the Ombudsman service

If someone has concerns about the way in which the LPA took a decision on a planning application then a complaint may also be possible to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, who cannot look at the merits of the decision but can rule on whether the correct process was used. Similarly, if someone has concerns about the way in which a planning appeal decision was taken, it may be possible to bring a complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman, provided no other legal remedy is available. In both cases, the local authority’s and Planning Inspectorate’s own internal complaints handling services should be used first before taking a case to the appropriate Ombudsman.

 Further reading

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