The first thing I am often asked about the Planning Act regime is how long does it take from application to decision, usually with the follow-up question 'can't it be any quicker?'.  Now that 20 applications have finished their representation periods and ten have finished their examinations, here is a look at how long they are taking so far.  I've probably overdone it on the stats front, but I hope this is a useful analysis all the same.

The Planning Act introduces fixed timescales for parts of consideration of an application, but not all, and it is particularly the earlier stages that are not fixed and are open to variability.  I identify nine stages, as follows.

Stage 1a: decision whether to accept application

The very first stage starts with the application being received by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). PINS have 28 days to decide whether to accept the application. In practice, the stats are as follows:

• Sample size: 22
• Shortest period: 17 days (Heysham)
• Longest period: 28 days (seven applications)
• Median period: 25 days
• Mean period: 25.3 days
• Mode: 28 days

If you remember back to your maths at school, the mean is the classic average of the numbers - adding them together and dividing by how many there are.  The median is the half-way value (i.e. half the figures are below this and half are above it) and the mode is the most common value.

Stage 1b: applicant starts representation period

The second stage is up to the applicant.  This is the publication of notices saying that the representation period has started.  There is no minimum or maximmum laid down for this period.

• Sample size: 20
• Shortest period: 3 days (Roosecote)
• Longest period: 42 days (Rookery, AMEP)
• Median period: 9 days
• Mean period: 14.8 days
• Mode: 7 days
• Running shortest (actual): 28 days (Ipswich)
• Running shortest (theoretical): 28 days
• Running longest (actual): 66 days (AMEP)
• Running longest (theoretical): 70 days

Running totals have been introduced - 'actual' means that an application has actually taken this long up to this point, 'theoretical' is taking the shortest/longest periods at each stage and adding them together (i.e. they won't necessarily relate to the same application).

Stage 1c: representation period

The third stage is again up to the applicant, subject to a minimum length of 28 days - the period allowed for representations to be made.  In fact this can't really be less than 35 days after the acceptance of the application, because the notice has to be published in two consecutive weeks and the 28 days starts from the second week, introducing an extra week into the process.

• Sample size: 20
• Shortest period: 32 days (Preesall)
• Longest period: 51 days (M10 J10a)
• Median period: 39 days
• Mean period: 41 days
• Mode: 39 days
• Running shortest (actual): 64 days (Ipswich)
• Running shortest (theoretical): 60 days
• Running longest (actual): 106 days (Rookery)
• Running longest (theoretical): 121 days

Stage 1d: certification period

The fourth stage is the last one that is up to the applicant, who must certify that the notices of acceptance of the application were served on the right people and organisations within 10 working days (i.e. usually 14 days) of the end of the representation period.

• Sample size: 16 (certificates are not on the website for four applications)
• Shortest period: 1 day (Heysham, North London)
• Longest period: 14 days (Ipswich, North Doncaster)
• Median period: 5.5 days
• Mean period: 7 days
• Mode: 3 days
• Running shortest (actual): 69 days (Fieldes Lock)
• Running shortest (theoretical): 61 days
• Running longest (actual): 112 days (Rookery)
• Running longest (theoretical): 135 days

Stage 1e: Rule 6 letter

The fifth stage is up to PINS.  They must issue a letter setting out the principal issues that the application raises and invite parties to the preliminary meeting.  There is no fixed timetable but the guidance recommends that this, the previous and the next stage take no more than 6 weeks between them.

• Sample size: 14
• Shortest period: 8 days (Redditch)
• Longest period: 44 days (Brig y Cwm)
• Median period: 24 days
• Mean period: 25.5 days
• Mode: 21 days
• Running shortest (actual): 93 days (Redditch)
• Running shortest (theoretical): 69 days
• Running longest (actual): 161 days (Galloper)
• Running longest (theoretical): 179 days

Stage 1f: preliminary meeting

The sixth and final pre-examination stage is again up to PINS, although there must be at least 21 days' notice of the preliminary meeting.  This is the period from the Rule 6 letter until the meeting itself.

• Sample size: 18
• Shortest period: 22 days (Roosecote)
• Longest period: 39 days (King's Lynn)
• Median period: 26.5 days
• Mean period: 27.8 days
• Mode: 23 days
• Running shortest (actual): 120 days (Heysham)
• Running shortest (theoretical): 91 days
• Running longest (actual): 190 days (Galloper)
• Running longest (theoretical): 218 days

So there you have it for the full 'pre-examination' part of the process.  The stage between making the application and starting the examination has lasted between 120 days - just under four months - and 190 days - just over six months - in practice, and taking the best from every application so far would mean it taking as little as 91 days - three months.  Always happy to advise on techniques for minimising these stages ...

Stage 2: examination

Now we get into the statutorily limited periods.  The first is the six-month - 184 day - examination stage.

• Sample size: 10
• Shortest period: 134 days (Ipswich)
• Longest period: 184 days (four applications)
• Median period: 181.5 days
• Mean period: 174.9 days
• Mode: 184 days
• Running shortest (actual): 267 days (Ipswich)
• Running shortest (theoretical): 225 days
• Running longest (actual): 374 days (Galloper)
• Running longest (theoretical): 402 days

Stage 3a: recommendation

The penultimate stage is the three months that PINS has to make a recommendation to the government.

• Sample size: 3
• Shortest period: 82 days (Ipswich)
• Longest period: 101 days (Kentish Flats)
• Median period: 90 days
• Mean period: 91 days
• Mode: none (all different)
• Running shortest (actual): 349 days (Ipswich)
• Running shortest (theoretical): 307 days
• Running longest (actual): 412 days (Kentish Flats)
• Running longest (theoretical): 503 days

Stage 3b: decision

Finally, the government has three months to make a decision.  The sample size is getting rather small by now.

• Sample size: 2
• Shortest period: 90 days (Ipswich)
• Longest period: 92 days (North Doncaster)
• Median period: 91 days
• Mean period: 91 days
• Mode: none
• Running shortest (actual): 439 days (Ipswich)
• Running shortest (theoretical): 397 days
• Running longest (actual): 497 days (North Doncaster)
• Running longest (theoretical): 595 days

Thus if everything goes right, the current best you can expect is just under 400 days, or 13 months from application to decision.  As time goes by this may well get shorter.

How long does it take from a standing start to making an application?  That's a story for another day.