Stage 3: Examination of the planning policies
What is this stage of local plan making
The planning policies which the local planning authority wants to adopt are submitted to the Government and the Local Plan will be examined by an independent inspector.
The Inspector will examine the ‘soundness’ of the Local Plan, whether it meets the legal and policy tests, and will hear local views. During this period, the planning authority can ask for further modifications of the local plan to be considered by the Inspector.
The whole stage is called “the examination” and it includes sessions held in public. These give the inspector the opportunity to hear from respondents and ask questions for clarification.
The planning inspector will produce a report of his or her assessment of the soundness of the local plan, and whether it meets legal requirements.
What is the examination for
The two roles of the inspector are to consider
- whether the local plan has been prepared in accordance with the legal requirements, and
- whether the policies are justified, effective and consistent with national policy (is the plan sound).
To be sound the local plan must be:
- Positively prepared: based on a strategy which seeks to meet objectively assessed development and infrastructure requirements, including unmet requirements from neighbouring authorities where it is reasonable to do so and consistent with achieving sustainable development;
- Justified: the most appropriate strategy when considered against the reasonable alternatives and based on proportionate evidence;
- Effective: deliverable over the local plan period and based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic priorities; and
- Consistent with national policy.
How does the examination process work
When the local plan is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate, the appointed Inspector will review the documents and the supporting material. From this, they will draw up a list of matters where clarification from the planning authority would be helpful. The Inspector’s letters to the authority and their replies will be on the examination web pages. Then a schedule of matters for the examination to be considered in the open hearing sessions will be published with a draft timetable.
The starting point for the examination is the submitted version of the Local Plan. However, the planning authority may be proposing a number of changes and these will be found in the examination library and on the examination webpage. Comments relating to the matters and issues identified by the inspector are invited, and discussion about them will be included at the hearing sessions.
What should you look for
Check the planning authority’s report of consultation on the presubmission local plan (Stage 2 of local plan making). You will be able to see the reply to your responses and those of everyone else. The authority will also indicate whether they are recommending any changes. Don’t forget to check the policies you were happy with in case those might be changed in response to opposing views.
How to get involved
Is the local plan sound?
The starting point of the examination is that the planning authority has submitted what it considers to be a sound plan. If you are seeking changes to the document you will have to demonstrate why the submitted local plan is not sound and how your suggested changes would make it sound.
Representations to the local plan at this stage will only be considered if they relate to soundness and legal requirements.
How to respond
If you have previously been involved in the making of the local plan, you will be asked whether you wish your views to be dealt with solely on the basis of your written representation or if, in addition, you wish to participate in one of the hearing sessions. Both methods carry the same weight and the inspector will have equal regard to each.
If you wish to proceed solely by written representations (and are not participating in the hearings) you can rely on what you have already submitted in writing to Stage 2. However, you may submit a written statement if you feel it necessary to respond to the matters and issues raised by the inspector and any subsequent amendments proposed by the planning authority.
Only people seeking specific changes to the local plan are entitled to participate in the hearing sessions of the examination. There is no need for those supporting or merely making comments on the local plan to attend. Sessions are open to the public so you can observe if you are interested.
If this is your first involvement in the preparation of this planning document you may need to join forces with another organisation that has already been involved. Only those organisations or individuals that made a representation at publication stage (Stage 2) can participate in the discussions.
Support other organisations
On the website look at any lists of organisations that have previously been involved in the development of the local plan & see if there are any that have similar aims to yourselves. You will be able to find summaries of their previous representations. It may be worth contacting them & discussing joint concerns and joint action.
Support late changes
On the examination website look for any modifications to the local plan that the Council proposes. You may find that they have responded positively to your previous representations. In this case, write to the Inspector to support these changes.
Look for any changes that you may not be so pleased by. See the planning authority’s justification; consider sending in a further representation so that the inspector is clear about your aims and why you think the changes have made the local plan unsound. If you had previously not been involved and you do not agree with this new change, you should write to the inspector and explain why the change makes the local plan unsound.
Examination (in Scotland)
Friends of Granton Castle Walled Garden made a last minute challenge to the designation of the garden for housing at the local plan examination and the reporter found in favour of giving the garden some protection.
Friends of the Garden (owned by Edinburgh City Council) have long yearned to grow food on the two acres but the council saw its future as luxury houses. The garden has been locked and overgrown since 2006. This is despite local food growers’ eagerness to restore the garden and the many health and wellbeing benefits this could bring to a deprived neighbourhood.
Further consideration of the future of the garden will now take place through a masterplan and the development management process. It was not thought to be appropriate to show it for housing at this stage.
To appear or not
You may feel that it is worth appearing at the hearing so that the inspector is clear about the benefits of food growing. Draw on your evidence base – any information that shows the local importance of food growing and the opportunities that should be taken for new space in sites proposed for development. The hearing format provides an informal setting for dealing with the inspector’s issues, by way of a discussion. The inspector will usually begin by making a few brief comments on the matters to be covered and will then invite participants into the debate so he/she can gain the information necessary to come to a conclusion on the relevant issues.
If you are participating in the hearing sessions you may submit further written statements if you wish. If you do choose to provide a statement, you should directly address the matters and issues that the inspector identified. You could invite the inspector to visit one of your inspirational community food growing spaces. (Don’t be disappointed if they don’t visit as they are on a tight schedule.)
Will any further changes be made?
At this advanced stage of the local plan preparation process, any further changes to the plan will be limited. The Council cannot itself now make any ‘main modifications’ – significant changes to remedy soundness problems can only come about through a recommendation in the inspector’s report. However, the Council can make any ‘minor’ modifications considered necessary. So you may need to compromise and at least get food growing acknowledged in one of the already proposed policies. This should not affect soundness because of the support for food growing in the National Planning Policy Framework.
What happens next
At the end of the examination, the Inspector will issue a report either recommending adoption, with any recommendations for modifications needed to make it sound, or, in exceptional cases, the most serious outcome would be a finding that the local plan is not sound.
The local planning authority will take a formal decision to adopt the local plan. It is then a legal document to be used in taking decisions on planning applications.
At submission stage, Hackney’s development management policies included food growing as a way of promoting health and wellbeing. There was also a specific policy supporting allotments and food growing.
When the plan was submitted to be examined Sustain and others made further representations which resulted in the Council proposing further changes to the plan. As a result Sustain submitted a final response which supported the changes and reiterated the requirement to have strong food growing policies due to the interest shown to date by the local community and the opportunities due to be available through new development. A summary of the new policy is in our Hackney Case Study https://www.sustainweb.org/planning/hackney/
We feel it was worthwhile keeping an eye on the changes as they were made during the examination and keeping up the pressure. When the final plan was launched some further changes had been made to make other policies and the supporting text more positive towards community food growing. Hackney Council's detailed policies which will now be used to determine planning applications: http://www.hackney.gov.uk/Assets/Documents/Development-management-local-plan.pdf