Since starting my placement with Banks Property, I have gained invaluable experience working with the development planning team and I have experienced some of the different aspects of the planning system, specifically – local plan examinations under the National Planning Policy Framework in England. Having the opportunity to work as part of Banks in-house planning team has enabled me to gain experience of the local plan examinations procedure and its importance within the planning system.
What is a Local Plan Examination and where does it sit within the planning system?
Since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012, which was revised in 2018 and updated again in 2019, the planning system across England has tried to become increasingly plan-led. To achieve this, local authorities are now required to prepare a local plan to set out the type and scale of development which is necessary in the area over a certain period-of-time.
Local plan examination is one of the final steps before a local authority can formally adopt their local plan. The examination typically involves three stages:
1. The first stage involves the local authority sending the local plan to the Secretary of State (SoS). The SoS then appoints a Planning Inspector to ensure that the Submitted Local Plan is sound by conducting a number of hearing sessions which gives developers and local communities, a platform and opportunity to debate on different aspects of the plan with the local authority in relation to its soundness. Following these hearing sessions, the local plan will either remain the same if it is found to be sound, or will need amending if it is found to be unsound.
Unlike many other developers who employ consultants to represent them at the local plan examination hearing sessions, Banks Property is represented by a member of the in-house planning team. Banks Property has gained extensive knowledge of the local planning and development history across many local authorities in the north of England and Scotland and promotes our development with care ethos in these regions. Through self-representation, Banks Property can ensure that our views on the local plan reflect the interests of the landowners and third parties that we work with.
2. During the second stage of the examination, modifications may be recommended by the Inspector after the hearing sessions to make the Local Plan ‘sound’. These modifications are then put through a consultation period in which parties can make further written representations.
3. The third stage marks the end of the local plan examination. The Inspector will write a final report which is sent to the local authority and then published.
What is the Purpose of the Examination?
During my experience of attending both the Durham and the Northumberland County Council local plan examination hearings, the inspectors have made clear that the local plan examination aims to test if the plan is legally compliant and sound, and if not, how it can be modified.
The soundness of a local plan is tested by measuring the local plan against the four tests of soundness – positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy.
Why are the Local Plan Examinations Important?
For a local authority, it is vital that a sound plan becomes adopted to ensure that the long-term needs of the local area are accurately met to ensure a sustainable level of growth. This is achieved through the correct provision of residential housing, commercial employment, mineral extraction and renewable energy generation land allocation. Of equal importance is the location of these allocations and the predicted time frame in which these allocations are to be delivered. This is to ensure that high-quality infrastructure is being provided in the areas that need it throughout the local plan period.
Local Plans also contain policies relating to mineral extraction and renewable energy generation so Banks is probably unique in commenting on all these policies.
Adoption of a sound local plan is also of importance for the Banks Group. Suitable infrastructure must be planned for by a local authority over the entirety of the local plan period (which can be up to a 20 year look ahead) to allow the Banks Group to continue to contribute to helping to meet the needs of the local area through providing high quality housing within the local area. Also, as any future planning applications will be assessed against the local plan it is imperative that the policies within the local plan ensure that development is both sustainable and of high quality.
Local plan examinations give Banks Property an opportunity to ensure that we can continue to provide much-needed homes and benefits to the local community in the future by debating the soundness of the local plan at the hearing sessions. If the local plan is found to be unsound by the planning inspector, the local plan can be modified by the local authority at the modifications stage. This is currently taking place as part of the local plan examination process at Bolsover District Council. However, in some circumstances the Inspector may require the local authority to ‘go back to the drawing board’ and start the plan making process all over again. This has occurred recently during the local plan examinations at Sevenoaks District Council in south east England.
It has been great experience for me to work with the planners at Banks Property, and I feel I now know a lot more about the planning system in England, especially by attending hearing sessions for local plan examinations. I’ve also been able to work as part of a team in preparing and submitting hearing statements and helped to deliver the key messages in these statements by participating in the hearing sessions.
By Jacob Clark, planning placement student, Banks Property. He is a third year student at Newcastle University studying for BA Hons in geography.