Fighting an appeal
If a planning application is refused by the local planning authority, the applicants have the right to appeal the decision. This request is made to the Secretary of State, through the Planning Inspectorate. A planning inspector is appointed to either decide the case or make a recommendation to the Secretary of State who will make the final decision. The Secretary of State always makes final decisions on applications with regional or national significance.
Members of the public affected by an application do not have a right to appeal. However in certain circumstances you may be able to challenge a planning decision through the court system. This is often a risky and expensive option. The Planning and Environment Bar Association sometimes offers free legal support.
The three types of appeal
1. Written representation
Generally, small straightforward applications can be dealt with through written evidence. Everyone concerned writes a formal submission letter to the planning inspectorate. These are examined by the planning inspector without any formal meeting.
2. Informal hearing
If the application is more complex - or if there has been significant local opposition - then there may be a hearing. Evidence is presented informally to an inspector in a round table discussion. No lawyers are present.
3. Public inquiry
Major applications with complex and contradictory evidence are dealt with by a local public inquiry. Here evidence is examined in front of an inspector, and witnesses are cross examined by legal representatives.
If you have commented on the application, the local planning authority should write to you informing you that an appeal has been made and whether it will be via written representations, informal hearing or public inquiry.
- The planning inspector receives all the objections sent to the local planning authority before it refused the application. So you may not need to make any further comments.
- However, if you want to submit further evidence you must do it within six weeks of the starting date of the appeal (this date will be in the letter sent to you about the appeal) otherwise your evidence will not be accepted.
- You must send three copies of your evidence, two of which will be sent to the appellant (applicant) and local planning authority .
- If you want a copy of the decision you must ask for one in your letter.
Appearing at an informal hearing
The local planning authority will send you a letter saying when and where the hearing will take place.
- Before you attend it is important that you look at the evidence from the appellant and the local planning authority, which will be available at the local planning authority’s offices.
- Hearings only last for one day. They start with introductions from the inspector, who will ask if anyone would like to speak. You should make your request to speak at this point.
- The appellant gives their case first, then the local planning authority, followed by members of the public. This is when you can speak.
- The hearing will end with a site visit. You can attend this, but you can only point out issues already raised during the hearing, not raise new or informal issues.
Appearing at a public inquiry
The local planning authority will inform you by letter when and where the inquiry will take place. There are three main options for submitting evidence.
- You can send a letter.
- You can turn up on the day and ask to speak. If you do, then you may be cross-examined, but you don't get the chance to ask questions of the other parties. However, this is the easiest and most common way to appear at an inquiry.
- If you have really strong feelings about the case - or hold views that are very different to others being put forward - you could consider asking to be a "rule 6 party." Don't take this on lightly though as it involves very strict schedules and deadlines. The main benefit is that you'll have the same status as the other parties, and receive all the evidence before the inquiry beings. At the inquiry you can represent yourself, act as an advocate, cross-examine the other parties, as well as giving evidence-in-chief put witnesses up to support your case. Becoming a rule 6 party is quite a rare and extreme thing to take on.
Speaking at an inquiry
Most people appearing at an inquiry will do so as members of the public, rather than having rule 6 party status. There are some key things to remember.
- Think carefully about what you want to say, pick out the key elements of your objection to the development. It is best to read out a written statement.
- If you are part of group, decide who would be best presenting the evidence and answering questions during cross-examination. The inspector will appreciate the time this saves.
- If you are working with other groups, it is a good idea to form a partnership or coalition, and split the evidence according to the issue, expertise and knowledge. Don’t all give the same evidence - although you should make clear you support everything each other says. This will look organised and professional.
- It is vital that you are there at the beginning of the inquiry as the inspector will run through the schedule and ask who would like to speak. If you miss this, you may not be able to speak at the inquiry. Tell the inspector if you can't attend the whole inquiry, so that they can try to re-arrange the schedule to include you.
What happens at an inquiry
- The appellant presents their case first and is cross-examined by the local planning authority’s legal representative first and then by members of the public.
- Next the local planning authority makes its case and is cross-examined in the same way.
- Then come members of the public - this is when you can read out your statement. After you have made your statement, you may be asked questions by the appellant’s legal representative. Don’t be intimidated, the inspector will not let them ask hostile or unfair questions.
- As with hearings, the inquiry will end with a site visit which you can attend. You must only speak to the inspector when pointing out issues raised during the inquiry.
A decision should be made within five weeks for written representations, and seven weeks for informal hearings and inquiries. Complex inquiries or those decided by the Secretary of State can take much longer to determine.
Copies are sent to the applicant and local planning authority and those who requested a copy of the decision.