Brokenshire Letter SoS to keep close eye on Local Plan Examinations

Here 18th June

Two things about this letter, firstly it seeks to give the SOS sufficient information to ensure that last minute MPS sought post inquiry interventions are unnecessary.  Secondly it seems to seek to avoid the kind of debacle we saw in East Cambridgeshire by setting up a warning system where carefully wond growth deals etc.  are put under threat by two footed  interventions by inspectors.

The Government wants to see every community covered by an up-to-date plan for
sustainable development – meaning that communities are in control of development and are not exposed to speculative development. As made clear in the National Planning Policy
Framework, the preparation and implementation of these plans is key to achieving
sustainable development.

I recognise the important role that the Planning Inspectorate plays in examining local plans on my behalf and I am committed to ensuring the independence of the examination process. If local people and their representatives are to see the plan as an important platform for shaping their surroundings then they must have confidence that examination of the plan is fair and open and that decisions are made impartially. They are also right to expect that examination will be efficient, timely and easy to engage with. I do not generally have a role in the examination of local plans. However, this letter – which I am publicising on – reminds inspectors and local authorities that Parliament has given me a number of legal powers that, where justified, allow me to become involved in plan making. This includes powers to notify or direct the Inspectorate to take certain steps in relation to the examination of the plan1 or to intervene to direct modification of the plan or that it is submitted to me for approval2. I am frequently asked by those affected by the planmaking process to consider use of these powers and must look at each of these requests on a case by case basis. This includes requests from Members of Parliament, who have a legitimate interest in the progress of local plans in their areas and are accountable to their electorates. I am pleased that the Planning Inspectorate’s published Procedural Practice encourages MPs to participate in the examination hearing sessions even if they did not make a representation and I would encourage their involvement in this way.

I am grateful for the work that the Planning Inspectorate does in providing factual
information to my officials on the progress of examinations that allows them to advise me on whether use of my powers would be appropriate. However, I think more can be done to make the provision of this factual information more routine and transparent.

For this reason, I am writing formally to set out two changes to our arrangements for sharing information that will be in place from immediate effect.
These changes are:
1. On a quarterly basis the Planning Inspectorate will publish a report that sets out the plans that are expected to be submitted for examination in the following 6-month period. I ask that this report be published on the Planning Inspectorate website. Clearly this can only be as good as the information
received from local authorities, and I am arranging for this to be drawn to the attention of local authorities to remind them of the importance of giving clear timetables;
2. The Planning Inspectorate will share all post-hearing advice letters, letterscontaining interim findings, and any other letters which raise soundness or
significant legal compliance issues, as well as fact check3 reports, with my
department on a for information basis, at least 48 hours in advance of them
being sent to the Local Planning Authority.
These arrangements are in addition to asking you to continue to respond positively to routine requests for information that arise on a case by case basis. I ask that you update the Planning Inspectorate procedural guidance to be clear that these arrangements are in place. I will ask the Chief Planner to write to Local Planning Authorities to draw their attention to this matter.
Finally, on the substance of plan examinations, I wanted to stress to inspectors – who are doing a challenging job – the importance of being pragmatic in getting plans in place that, in line with paragraph 35 of the NPPF, represent a sound plan for the authority and consistent in how they deal with different authorities. We support and expect Inspectors to work with LPAs to achieve a sound plan, including by recommending constructive main modifications
in line with national policy. In this regard, I would reiterate the views set out by the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP in his 2015 letter, which I attach, on the need to work pragmatically with councils towards achieving a sound plan.

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