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Planning inquiries have long been a source of frustration for all those involved in the process. The absence of sanctions for failure to comply with the pre-inquiry timetable and disclosure requirements has meant statements of case, required soon after an appeal has been lodged, are often ill-prepared and late. This means the other side's case is often not known until proofs of evidence are exchanged three weeks before the inquiry.
The call for a review by Secretary of State for the Environment John Gummer has finally put the process under the spotlight. In its response, the planning and environmental law sub-committee of the City of London Law Society arrived at sensible conclusions. First, and foremost, it advocates good preparation which it says will lead to shorter hearings.
McKenna & Co partner and committee member Tony Kitson believes proper preparation could cut the hearing time by as much as 50 per cent. To this end, the committee wants to see a pre-inquiry review about three weeks before every hearing, when the parties would certify to the Inspector they had agreed basic data, identified the issues in dispute and exchanged all evidence. This would be backed by the ability of one party to serve a compliance notice on another when statements of case, lists of documents and evidence had not been delivered on time. Those who failed to comply would have costs awarded against them.
For small appeals, the certification process could be carried out by post while for larger appeals, the Inspector could hold a pre-inquiry review three weeks before the inquiry where parties could certify compliance and the Inspector could give directions to deal with outstanding points.
The proposals are designed to make the system more workable and the committee is to be commended. The only pity is such an inefficient system has been allowed to exist for so long.