An independent Planning Inspector will be appointed by the Secretary of State to examine the Local Plan. The Inspector’s role is to explore the issues raised during consultation and ensure that the Local Plan meets the legal requirements and that it is sound. The Inspector will only consider comments and representations submitted during the formal consultation period on the pre-submission Local Plan and representations submitted during this stage need to relate to the tests of soundness. It is also open to the Inspector to consider any matter that they consider relevant to the plan - just because an issue has not been raised by representations does not mean that it will not be considered at examination. If you object to the plan you should be specific as to why you consider the document to be unsound, what change(s) you are seeking, and why these changes would make the document sound. You may find it useful to refer to the tests of soundness in making your comments as these will ensure that your comments can be considered as relevant to the examination.
The authority must submit the Local Plan, relevant technical reports and studies, background evidence and any written representations made during the pre-submission consultation period to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Secretary of State will then appoint an independent Planning Inspector to run the Examination. The authority will appoint a 'Programme Officer', who assists the Inspector with the administration and organisation of the Examination. You should make a note of the Programme Officer's contact details as they will be key to organising your involvement in the Examination. It is important to note that, similar to a judge, although the planning inspector is appointed by the Secretary of State (via the Planning Inspectorate) they will reach their own independent professional judgement on the Local Plan based on the evidence before them.
The Inspector can run the Examination in one of four ways:
- written representations - where the Inspector believes that the testing process can be carried out through written communication without the need for face-to-face discussion;
- roundtable discussions - where the Inspector chairs a discussion with the relevant people. Roundtable discussions are normally used to discuss wide ranging issues (for example, housing land supply);
- informal hearings - where the Inspector will lead a discussion, in an informal setting without legal representation. Informal hearings are often used to discuss representations about specific sites although these will often be grouped, especially if there are alternative sites for the development of a village or area;
- formal hearings - where the Inspector considers that a more formal approach is required and that evidence should be subject to cross-examination. This will only happen in very exceptional instances where the Inspector is convinced that a formal approach is essential to adequately test the evidence. Lawyers are often present at formal hearings.
The procedure used will depend on the issue or evidence that the Inspector is dealing with and the nature of the representations themselves. It is for the Inspector to decide on the procedure and how participants are to be grouped. All written comments made in the six week consultation period at pre-submission stage will be considered by the Inspector in deciding on the main matters and issues for examination.
There may be a Pre-Hearing Meeting (PHM) which will be held at least six weeks before the Examination opens. When such a meeting is held all participants will be invited to discuss the procedures for the Examination. The Inspector will have identified the main matters and issues for examination and will require participants to appear together where they have an interest in the same matter or geographical area. Participants with similar views will be urged to present a joint case whenever possible. The Inspector will request that statements be submitted to address the main matters and issues identified and set the timetable for this process. The statements must be submitted in accordance with this timetable and the deadline will be the same for all participants (including the planning authority). The agendas for the hearings will be prepared by the Inspector drawing on the content of these statements.
In straightforward cases the Inspector, in consultation with the authority, may decide that a pre-hearing meeting is unnecessary. In these cases, the Inspector will set the deadlines for further statements in advance of the hearings.
You will only be able to appear in front of the Inspector if you are seeking a change to the document and if you have requested to attend the examination. You must make this clear on the formal representation form (The weight and importance given by the Inspector to evidence dealt with through written representations will be equal to that from hearings). It is expected that most people's comments will be dealt with through written representation procedure.
The Inspector (along with the Programme Officer) will set a timetable for the Examination process and this will normally be spread over several months to accommodate preparation time, information gathering and analysis and the production of the Inspector's Report.
If the Inspector decides to hold hearing sessions the dates, times and locations will be published by the authority well in advance. A programme for the Examination will be drawn by the Inspector with the help of the Programme Officer and this timetable will be provided to all involved with the Examination.
The Inspector will visit the sites identified in the Plan including those proposed for development and the visits will normally be unaccompanied unless the Inspector needs access to private land.
The Inspector will open the hearing and summarise the issues and questions to be discussed. The Inspector will lead the discussion and invite participants to contribute their views at the appropriate time. The Inspector may require participants to clarify their evidence and may refuse to hear matters which are thought to be irrelevant or repetitious. The approach will be co-operative rather than confrontational. Only when the hearing is shown as 'formal' will the Inspector allow 'advocates' (lawyers) to cross-examine participants.
Some examinations may be split into ‘part 1’ and ‘part 2’ hearings. Usually this is done as there are critical issues to resolve with the plan strategy as a whole (e.g. housing numbers) before the rest of the plan can be examined.