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Never mind the quality, feel the width

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Performance, Service improvement

investigating trends illustration

Richard Schofield, Head of Inspector Profession, asks the question 'what is a “quality” decision?' and invites feedback on how we should define our approach.

I am not old enough to have watched the 1970s sitcom, the title of which I have pinched for this post. It is, however, remarkably apposite.

At the Planning Inspectorate, quality assurance is integral to our work. Local Plan and National Infrastructure reports are peer reviewed. A random selection of inspectors’ decisions are reviewed after and, sometimes, before issue.

For a long time we relied upon the number of complaints that we upheld, and the number of High Court Challenges that we lost, or where we submitted to judgement (very few, for the record), as a barometer of the quality of our output. Now, however, one of our Ministerial measures, against which we report, is the number of cases we have quality assured.

But, so what?

Well, our processes allow us to identify and to investigate, among other things, trends in appeal types; areas where additional training and/or guidance may be required; and areas where we need to help our customers to do things better (more on that another time).

But what IS a “quality” decision? What we regard as such may not be what you regard as one. And I am keen to (re)define our approach in this area.

So, let’s hear your thoughts!

What factors go into making something that inspectors and all interested parties would regard as being of high quality? Feel free to reply to this.

And, yes, we know our written reps decision times are slower than they should be. And we’re working on it. This is about something else. By way of a clue, the answer is definitely NOT, “a case that is determined in my favour”.

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  1. Comment by Helen Howie posted on

    Most Decisions are high quality so it's easier to describe the minority that fall short:
    1. A poor quality Decision is where the Inspector has not carefully read the adopted Local Plan Policy as written, but has instead applied a generic common-denominator understanding of "sustainable design" or "countryside" etc that is not actually what the Local Plan says. A national Development Management suite of policies will resolve some of this problem, but please would Inspectors pay more careful attention to the PRECISE policy wording as Local Plan policies that appear superficially similar are sometimes quite different when read without a pre-conceived idea of what they say.
    2. A poor Decision stands out when an Inspector lazily falls back on the 'change is bad' argument. By all means justify the position by reference to a specific Local Plan policy or to specific local impacts detailed in the Decision, but it isn't fair to the applicant to simply endorse objectors' views that any change must by definition be negative. Unfortunately I've seen too many Decisions take this approach and it perpetuates the public's opinion that all development is inherently harmful.
    3. A poor Decision sits on the fence and then at the last moment seems to randomly fall one way, without explaining what factor(s) outbalanced the other factors in the opposite direction.

    A good Decision makes it clear which factors have had greatest weight in the Inspector's opinion. Terms like "significant weight" and "limited weight" are helpful in this regard.

  2. Comment by Chris Barratt posted on

    To Stert, understand the area from the residents perspective. They know when the infrastructure can not cope, they know how difficult it is to get to work. Put infrastructure as a priority rather than the 'Jam tomorrow' approach of developers.
    Look at the wider picture. Is a development truly sustainable if it is built on the food production land that will be needed to feed its inhabitants?
    In our area, the inspectors continue to rubberstamp the profits of developers and the residents foot the bill for the infrastructure after they have gone. Don't ignore what the residents tell you. They have lived in the area a long time.
    Planning should be long term otherwise, why bother?
    I am not going to work today because again, the A259 and the A27 are baulked and another 2700 homes are being started with no plans on improving either even though, they are the only routes available

  3. Comment by David posted on

    Sadly there are too many examples to throw in here.

    Overall, a bad decision is where the Inspector or LPA hasn't clearly run a thorough argument of the issues nor thought latterly about other matters that may play its part, for example, PD (they should be competent officers and should know the impact that this might have) and reached rather dubious conclusions. Constant repetition.

    I'm fed up with Inspectors, like most LPAs (and I've worked on both sides of the fence), giving lackadaisical arguments to find inappropriate development, or that is where the argument starts and fails for Green Belt policy.

    Inspectors should be supported when they conflict with LP policy, particularly when it makes no sense, even if it is recently adopted. LP Inspectors cannot analyse every detail and should be open to changing or adapting the policy, for example, an exemption policy that doesn't exempt the normal exemptions.

    Planners should be supporting development rather than finding excuses to refuse it.

    In some decisions, it's clear that it's Friday afternoon, and you want an easy decision.

    The public realm includes both fronts and backyards.


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