Finally cleared up privately without another embarrassingly vague letter from Boles
PINS HQ is advising inspectors that the decision whether to treat unmet need as an exceptional circumstance justifying a GB boundary review is one for the Council and not for the examiner to take. They are advised that the Minister wants Inspectors, where there is unmet need in a Green Belt area, to ask if a review had been considered, but that Inspectors cannot insist that it is considered.
So it is change in policy, its more than being angry at the tone. Well it still doesn’t clear it up. What then? Can an inspector advise that the decisions they have taken mean that the plan would be unsound? If they cannot then it is a change in policy from what is in the NPPF and GB reviews come to a halt. If they can then LPAs can work out themselves what the consequences of not carrying out a review would be without the inspector having to tell them.
It all seems worringly to me like the return to a presumption in favour of soundness which the courts tore apart bcause it was not in the act. So inspectors can now make whatever recommendations they like to make a plan sound, except on Green Belt. Are we now to add like scottish law a third category – not proven sound, to the sound and unsound verdicts? One thing the minister does not have the power to do is change primary legislation by dictat, this is more than a change in policy that the SoS denies even making.
Although inspectors sit in the seat of the SoS in making decisions their greatest strength is their independence. If Boles is claiming this is not a change in policy then what is it? Is it an ‘employers instruction’ that inspectors will get into trouble if they make recommendations to carry out GB reviews even though this is what the NPPF says and was what ministers said it saidfor over a year? If there are some things that inspectors cannot say, despite what government policy says, then this is a gag. Is it overtime for a rigorously independent PINS reporting only to parliament or the privy council?