Opinion: Planning delays, human rights and damages

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According to the latest figures released by the Government,1 in the first nine months of 2004 76 per cent of all planning applications submitted to district planning authorities have been determined within the statutory eight-week period provided for in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA 1990), s. 78(2).2  Although this figure is much higher than the 1994 one of 65 per cent, it still is a fact that the determination of almost one third of all planning applications is subject to delays beyond what the letter of the law permits.

Of course, when the statutory eight-week period for a determination of a planning application has passed (or, for applications which are accompanied by an Environmental Impact Assessment, a 16-week period), then the TCPA 1990, s. 78(2) provides that the applicant can appeal to the Secretary of State against this deemed refusal. However, in practice in such cases of non-determination of planning applications this remedy offers little solace, as usually appeals take several months to be decided and there is then no statutory period within which the Secretary of State must reach a decision.3

This situation is doubly unsatisfactory. First, because this creates uncertainty in the total length of the planning process, and second, because it might lead to a breach of the applicant’s human rights. According to Article 6 of the European
Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),

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