Plan examinations lasting years have become the norm. As we have commented on many times they run the risk of discrediting and delaying the whole system. As we set down any canny authority can ask the inspector for a section 20(7) instruction to fix the plan and as such avoid ever being found unsound, at least if they pass the DTC tests.
Changing local plan examinations to allow “less scope for making significant changes” to submitted plans during the process would help to ensure compliance with the government’s proposed new nine-month limit on such inquiries, the Planning Inspectorate’s (PINS) local plans chief has said.
In the early days of the post 2004 act system inspectors were god, all changes issued from them. Major changes could not be made after submission. The incoming conservative government in 2010 very nearly abolished binding inspectors reports. But they were persuaded of the conceit that changes could only be suggested by LPAS. But the new section 20(7) allowed LPAS to manipulate examinations to never fail. It was an unforseen consequence.
Certainly the nine month limit makes a major new consultation impractical.
A test needs to distinguish between changes needed to refine a plan from significant change to a plans strategy. If a site has been considered and not included at preferred option stage and through SEA that is consultation. For all omissions sites developers should have included their own evidence base at consultation stage if the LPA has not included these and if this is done and open to comment no new consultation should be needed. Nor should there need to be consultation on any change needed to bring a policy into conformance to national policy.
I think the test should be material modifications (not major modifications) should be confined to fixing issues of soundness that emerge through the examination process and where the modification is of a scale not to require a major change to the submitted plan strategy. Where a plan is found unsound it should return to the stage at which the omissions or problems can be rectified.