Planning Tribunal hearings ‘blitz’ coming

The Planning Appeals Tribunal is preparing to start having up to three hearings a week to clear up the backlog of Central Planning Authority decision appeals.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said he was fully aware of the backlog in the Legislative Assembly last week.

‘I won’t waste the House’s time to deny it and I won’t offer any excuses,’ he said. ‘The backlog is neither acceptable nor desirable.’

Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Planning Jennifer Ahearn said there are more than 20 hearings pending.

The Planning Appeals Tribunal customarily meets one or two Friday mornings each month. Last year, that did not happen.

‘For whatever reason, there was only one, maybe two, last year,’ she said.

Mr. Tibbetts said the backlog was not necessarily the fault of the Tribunal members, but because of a series of circumstances that lead to delays.

One of those circumstances was cancelled hearings because of conflicts with the legal representatives.

‘Legal has to go where the big bucks lie, so sometimes hearings have to be cancelled and rescheduled.’

Mr. Tibbetts said he hoped there would be cooperation from legal representatives in getting the backlog dealt with.

Speaking about the legal scheduling difficulties, Ms Ahearn said the government was not trying to say it was the appellants’ attorney’s that were solely responsible for the cancellation of hearings.

‘We’re trying to schedule the hearings around lawyers’ schedules, and everyone is so busy,’ she said, adding that there are a minimum of three lawyers involved in every hearing.

Going forward, the government would like to see the Tribunal hearings conducted in a more consistent manner, but it is unsure at this point on how best to achieve that.

Ms Ahearns said one suggestion is to tell everyone involved in a Tribunal matter to keep the first Friday of every month open.

‘Maybe that’s the way to go,’ she said.

Some of the Planning appeals go back several years, Mr. Tibbetts said in the House.

‘In looking at them, you have to wonder if some of them are still relevant, but they nevertheless have to go forward.’

Mr. Tibbetts said the Planning Appeals Tribunal was planning a blitz of hearings over the next few months to clear up the backlog.

Chairwoman Sara Collins confirmed the Tribunal was planning to meet up to three times a week.

‘We are just about to start it,’ she said Wednesday.

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