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LDF L&DG: Surviving the Examination

Date: 5/12/2006

The LDF learning and dissemination project is working with ten pilot authorities to capture what they learn from the preparation of their LDF and disseminate that learning to practitioners.  The reports of the learning from meetings of the pilot authorities are to be found on the Planning Advisory Service and Planning Officers Society websites.

The pilot authorities met on 5 December 2006, and this bulletin sets out what came out of that meeting.  The main business was to hear about the practical experience of the examination of their core strategies by Hambleton District Council and Horsham District Council.  Both core strategies were subsequently endorsed as sound by the Inspectors.

HEALTH WARNING - The material here sets out the experience of just two authorities, and represents an early view of what seem to be some of the issues to be ready for in preparing for the examination of a core strategy.  The approaches of Inspectors vary, and different DPDs will call for differences of practice, so the experience is not presented as representative of exactly what others may expect.  It does however offer interesting pointers which may assist other authorities as they plan for examination.

Surviving the examination

The examination timescale

Horsham submitted their core strategy and site specific allocations of land DPDs in November 2005.  They received some 1800 representations on the core strategy, the majority focused on a proposed westward extension of the town of Horsham.  The examination hearing was held in September 2006 with two Inspectors, and lasted 14 sitting days over three weeks (about half of what the authority had anticipated).  The Inspectors' report was received in January 2007, when the core strategy was found sound subject to a number of detailed changes.  It thus took about ten months to get from submission to the opening of the hearing, and about 17 weeks from the close of the hearing to receipt of the draft report.

Hambleton submitted their core strategy in February 2006, and received 487 representations, of which 111 were essentially in support, and 376 arguing that it was unsound in some manner.  The hearing into the core strategy took place in October 2006, and the draft report was received in early February 2007.  The core strategy was found sound apart from 24 detailed recommendations, mostly making minor wording changes.  From submission to the opening of the hearing took 33 weeks, and the draft report was received 19 weeks after the close of the hearing.

At Horsham, the Planning Inspectorate took what has now become their standard line, that they will not hold the hearing part of an examination into a DPD submitted at the same time as a core strategy until the core strategy has been examined and the Inspector's report published finding it sound. 

In the light of their experience, Horsham said that another time they would still wish to prepare both the site allocations DPD and development polices DPD alongside the core strategy, and felt that developers and others would be willing to be consulted on three DPDs at a time.  However, while they would aim to get both to the stage of a draft ready for submission at the same time as the core strategy, they would not actually submit them until they had received the Inspector's report finding the core strategy sound.  Also, with the benefit of their experience Horsham consider that once the core strategy is adopted it should be possible for a subsequent DPD to get through the entire process from submission to adoption in about 15 months.

Submission and representations

Both Hambleton and Horsham decided that they would not bring forward any proposed changes in response to representations after submission, in line with the principle that the plan should be completed in the form the authority wishes to adopt it before it is submitted.  However, they obtained delegated authority to agree or make changes during the examination where that was likely to be beneficial to resolving issue and satisfying the Inspector(s).

In each case the majority of representations related to housing development, with over 60% of those making representations in relation to Hambleton acting on behalf of house building interests.  57% of representations on the Hambleton core strategy requested to be heard, and 43% were dealt with by written representations.  Representations at Horsham mainly took the form of objections and addressed traditional delivery arguments, and few representations referred to tests of soundness. However at Hambleton, most representations from developers and agents did refer to the nine tests of soundness.

The rules for DPD examinations require that all the evidence upon which any party to the examination intends to rely must be supplied by the close of the representation period.  This means that parties need to be assembling their evidence ready for submission, to ensure that it is available in time.  There is no requirement for rebuttal statements by the planning authority unless the Inspector asks for them in relation to specific matters.

Horsham found the Regulation 31 statement, a summary of the representations received, very helpful to both them and the Inspectors.  Their Inspectors asked that the various representations received be related to what the authority considered to be the relevant soundness tests, whereas the Hambleton Inspector did not.

The pre-hearing meeting

Both authorities prepared a soundness self-assessment using the PAS toolkit.  Horsham provided the Inspectors with the self-assessment at the pre-hearing meeting, and it was incorporated in the reference document examination hearing library.  Hambleton's self-assessment ran to some 40 pages, and was a major piece of work containing full responses to the questions, not just "yes" and "no" answers.  It was very helpful generally in assisting them to assemble the evidence and relating it to the tests of soundness, and particularly useful in dealing with the Inspector's procedural questions.

Prior to the pre-hearing meeting the Horsham Inspectors provided a good briefing note on the purpose and features of the examination.  This set out the purpose of the hearings, ie to concentrate upon the issues where the Inspectors wanted to hear more and not to repeat the case set out in the representation.  They made it clear at the pre-hearing meeting that they were only interested in evidence, and not assertions.  Horsham considered it very important to the effectiveness of the hearings that the Inspectors set out clearly in advance how they expected them to work.

Preparing for the hearing sessions

Following the pre-hearing meeting the Hambleton Inspector issued a paper setting out in draft the matters and issues upon which he intended to focus the hearing sessions.  This made it clear that the examination would address specific points raised in representations, together with other points the Inspector wished to consider.  Nine matters (broad subjects) were identified, and fifteen issues framed as questions in relation to them, with 120 subsidiary questions.  For example -

Issue (Settlement Hierarchy)

"Is the settlement hierarchy soundly based, recognising the sustainability, role, status, constraints and potential opportunities for each settlement and reflecting the underlying spatial strategy and national and regional guidance?"

Subsidiary question (11)

"Should there be a clearer distinction between Principal Service Centres, Service Centres, Service Villages and Secondary Villages, and should there be a greater concentration of development at the Principal Service Centres?"

In the light of the Inspector's matters and issues paper, Hambleton decided to develop three examination topic papers for use by all parties, covering -

  • the underlying strategy
  • meeting housing needs
  • providing for a sustainable economy

The topic papers set out the broad basis of the Council's case, guided by the Regulation 31 statement and the Inspector's draft matters and issues, drawing upon the evidence base and providing brief responses to issues raised in representations.  They did not attempt comprehensive coverage, but concentrated on the main issues.  The authority provided additional resources to enable the topic papers to be prepared in good time.

The Inspector required the authority to provide a statement on each issue, covering all the Inspector's questions, with a 3,000 word limit for each issue, to be available four weeks before the start of the hearing sessions.  The authority decided to keep these succinct, relying on extensive cross-referencing to the evidence base, whether technical studies, the outcomes of consultation, the sustainability appraisal, or regional or national planning policy guidance.  They concentrated on soundness, always addressing the issue of whether the core strategy was sound in respect of the specific point, and how the changes sought would impact upon soundness.  The statements did not generally include rebuttals of other participants statements: instead this was covered verbally at hearing sessions.

At Horsham the authority similarly prepared position statements to a 3,000 word limit six weeks before the hearings, signposting to the evidence in a similar way to Hambleton.  They did produce rebuttal statements, which were submitted to the Programme Officer four weeks before the start of hearings.  This required a two week turnaround on the statements and was very difficult, so the deadlines were eventually staggered to give the authority more time to complete them.

At Horsham the Inspector asked the authority to work with those who submitted representations to provide statements of common ground.  A party would be able to ask the authority to agree a statement of agreed assumptions etc which would then enable the hearing sessions to focus on the matters of disagreement.  Horsham would encourage others to be proactive in agreeing statements of common ground, since the lack of them made for a lot of "homework" for the authority.  Their particular value is that they enable more focussed discussion at the hearing sessions, which means better use of hearing time and enables the length of the hearing sessions themselves to be reduced.

Horsham made the point that it was important to think in good time about who was likely to attend hearing sessions, and how many people might be involved, to ensure that appropriate accommodation was selected and booked in advance.

 

 

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