Post-pandemic, Planning Inspectorate should not just carry on working as though we are still in lockdown – Prospect

19 May 2021

The Planning Inspectorate, which handles planning appeals, local plan examinations and nationally significant infrastructure projects in England, has set out its analysis of the impact of the pandemic on the services it provides, and likely future mode of operating, without proper consultation of its own Inspectors and Appeals Planning Officers.

A number of articles published on the website, talk about how the Inspectorate has worked during the pandemic, with remote meetings rather than in person, and suggest that this should continue.  These statements are made despite the fact that the Inspectorate has only just started the process of preparing to formally consult with its workforce on the lessons of the pandemic, and the conclusions of these articles do not align with the majority of Prospect members working as Planning Inspectors.

Prospect members are concerned that the appearance of this article before consultation has even taken place means that management have already predetermined how they wish to operate in future, and do not appear to have taken into account the experience of its highly skilled workforce.

Members agree that the Inspectorate, through the dedication of its staff, has performed well under very difficult circumstances but their assessment of the future requirements are different to those suggested by the articles.  Planning Inspectors are looking forward to a return to in person hearings, inquiries and examinations as soon as possible.  As placemaking is central to the Government’s planning agenda, Planning Inspectors consider it to be important that public hearings, inquiries and examinations are held in person in the communities shaped by their decisions.

Inspectors also consider that, whilst virtual participation and blended elements may have a part to play going forward, in the majority of circumstances a return to face-to-face is a more efficient approach to dealing with events, allowing people to focus on a return to some sense of normality in their professional lives and supporting the economic recovery post pandemic.

Lisa Browne, Prospect Negotiator, said:

“It’s important that employers learn the lessons of the pandemic but this can’t be done without consulting their workforces. The Planning Inspectorate appears to be drawing conclusions about how it should operate in the future, without asking the opinions of its own inspectors.

“Prospect members within the Inspectorate have worked incredibly hard during the last year and have managed to make the system work. But it is Prospect’s view that when the pandemic is over we should not simply carry on as though we were still in lockdown. We look forward to arriving at a system which works for inspectors, the Planning Inspectorate and meets the needs of the communities we serve.”