Planning inspectors usually uphold Croydon Council's decisions, analysis shows
'FACELESS' planning inspectors are often the target of residents’ ire, but the Advertiser can reveal that most appeals against decisions taken locally are refused. Rachel Millard reveals more.
IT IS often held that the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol rides roughshod over local democracy, parachuting inspectors in who make decisions over locals' heads.
But an Advertiser analysis of planning appeals reveals that, in fact, planning inspectors uphold councils' decisions in most cases.
Of the 123 appeals decided since 2009 for sites in Coulsdon and Purley, 88 were dismissed (71 per cent) and 35 allowed.
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In Coulsdon and Old Coulsdon, 43 appeals were dismissed and 15 allowed. In Purley, 45 were dismissed and 20 allowed.
Each figure includes a mix of large-scale developments and householders' appeals for extensions, conversions and garages.
The results were met with surprise by campaigners and developers alike, sparking debate about the merits and pitfalls of an external appeals channel open only to developers.
Ian Coomber is a planning consultant with extensive experience negotiating the planning system, notably through his work for Farlie Healthcare, which owns the much-opposed care home in Higher Drive, Kenley.
It has appealed over the heads of Croydon Council three times, winning the first, losing the second, and awaiting a decision on the third.
Mr Coomber said he was "surprised" at the rate of refusals, but warned there would not be "much development" at all if decisions were left to the "political arena" of councils.
He said: "[Without the Planning Inspectorate] the development industry would automatically direct itself to areas where there were fewer objections.
"Ultimately, with a lot of objections, the profile of the development increases, and then it goes to the political arena of the planning committee.
"The Planning Inspectorate is an opportunity to re-inject some professional, dispassionate judgment."
Objectors may like to see the appeal process scrapped, he agreed, just as developers would like to see their applications "rubber-stamped".
Old Coulsdon homeowner Florence Kollie started the campaign group Preservation of Old Coulsdon Community last year, to guard against excessive development in the area.
She said that while the figures were encouraging, they should not be used to diminish the need for local plans to be decided locally.
"Appeals should be allowed but they should be made to the council," she said.
"Perhaps external powers should come too, but there should be local people on board."
A spokesman for the Planning Inspectorate said the figures for Coulsdon and Purley reflected the national picture.
An average 4 per cent of planning applications are appealed, she added, meaning that the majority of decisions are made locally".
"In determining an appeal, an inspector will always remain impartial," the spokesman added.
"They will decide the appeal based on the evidence placed before them, in writing or orally."