Monday, 29 November 2010

Could PINS be swamped by the IPC?

Rumours have reached my ears that there is concern within PINS that in subsuming the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which is intended to become PINS’ ‘Major Infrastructure Planning Unit’, the Inspectorate is being asked to absorb and digest an organisation which is somewhat larger than itself. At the very least this has major implications in management terms, but the fear is that it might turn out in practice to be a reverse take-over, whereby the enlarged Planning Inspectorate is in effect the IPC with PINS bolted on as an adjunct, even though the new organisation still bears the PINS name.

Like so many other changes proposed by the present government, the merger of the IPC with PINS will require legislation (expected to be incorporated in the ‘Localism Bill’) amending the 2008 Act and bringing about the merger. Only time will tell whether the fears currently emanating from within PINS will prove to be justified.

A longer term threat to PINS and its current functions is contained in the Conservatives’ pre-election ‘Green Paper’ (“Open Source Planning”) which seems to envisage the abrogation of the current right to appeal against the refusal of planning permission, and to replace it with what amounts to no more than a desk-based review to check that correct procedure was followed in assessing the application, and that the decision reached is not in contravention of the local plan. The suggestion is that the first of these issues would be dealt with not by PINS but by the Local Government Ombudsman, leaving PINS to deal solely with appeals concerning ‘correct’ application of the local plan. So far as I am aware, this proposal does not seem to feature in the expected contents of the imminent ‘Localism Bill’, but we cannot be sure about this until the draft bill emerges.

PINS (“The Planning and Housing Inspectorate” to give it its full official title) celebrated its centenary last year, having been set up under the 1909 Act. It looks as though its days may now be numbered, at least in the form in which it has existed for the past hundred years and that it may survive in name only, with its functions radically altered.


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