Action urged on planning delays

Cyril Dixon reports

BARRISTERS and solicitors appearing in planning inquiries face strict new guidelines to prevent 'time- wasting' during cross-examination.

Inspectors could be urged to intervene during lengthy exchanges or to impose time limits on opening statements.

The measures are among recommendations made by a firm of independent consultants following a survey of customer attitudes to the planning appeal procedure.

Among its findings was a degree of dissatisfaction among members of the public over proceedings which are lengthy, irrelevant, repetitious or intimidating.

Environment Secretary John Gummer says: "The appeal inquiry is held so that parties can present their case, not for the convenience of advocates."

He promised to issue a circular on appeals and inquiry procedures later this year, and asked the Planning Inspectorate, the agency responsible for inquiries, to:

Make more use of hearings in preference to public inquiries.

Use pre-inquiry meetings to focus on critical issues and establish a timetable.

Tighten controls over cross-examination to eliminate repetition or intimidation.

The survey, carried out by planning consultants WS Atkins, questioned individuals and organisations who had been involved in appeals heard during last year and the year before.

More than two thirds of those questioned responded, and many were satisfied with procedures. However, inspectors were criticised for not intervening enough.

The report also advises the use of smaller straightforward inquiries, less paperwork, and full notification of parties if there are any delays in making a decision.