Publication and examination of a Local Plan
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What happens when a Local Plan is published?
The publication stage plan should be the document that the local authority considers ready for examination. This Plan must be published for representations by the local planning authority, together with other “proposed submission documents”, before it can be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for examination. This provides a formal opportunity for the local community and other interests to consider the Local Plan, which the local planning authority would like to adopt. The specific publication requirements are set out at Regulations 17, 19 and 35 (and 21) of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012.
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What should the local planning authority do when submitting a Local Plan for examination?
Having received any representations on the publication version of the plan, the local planning authority should submit the Local Plan and any proposed changes it considers appropriate along with supporting documents to the Planning Inspectorate for examination on behalf of the Secretary of State. A Statement of Representations Procedure should be published alongside the submission version of the Local Plan.
The submitted documents should include those that were made available at the publication stage (updated as necessary), including details of who was consulted when preparing the Local Plan (at Regulation 18 stage) and how the main issues raised have been addressed. The local planning authority must also include details of the representations made following publication of the Local Plan and a summary of the main issues raised – see Regulation 22 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012.
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What happens if the Inspector has significant concerns about a submitted Local Plan before the hearings begin?
The Inspector will make an initial assessment of the Local Plan once it has been submitted for examination. Where any major concerns are identified, in relation to the duty to cooperate, other procedural requirements or the soundness of the plan, the Inspector will write to the local planning authority setting these out. Where the issues cannot be addressed through correspondence the Inspector may arrange for an exploratory meeting to take place.
If the Inspector considers that the local planning authority has not met the duty to cooperate or other procedural requirements then the Inspector may suggest that the plan is withdrawn to allow these issues to be rectified.
Where the Inspector has significant concerns about the soundness of a submitted plan, they may also suggest that the plan is withdrawn, but exceptionally may also suspend the examination process to give the local planning authority time to undertake further work to address the issues raised.
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Who is involved and what is discussed in a hearing session?
Anyone who has made representations seeking to change a published Local Plan must, if they request, be given the opportunity of attending a hearing (section 20(6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004). The local planning authority will liaise with those who have asked to appear at the hearing to arrange attendance, including whether interested groups wish to nominate a representative to put forward their views.
The local planning authority is required to publicise details of the hearing sessions at least six weeks before they are scheduled to take place – under regulation 24 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012.
The appointed Inspector may hold a pre-hearing meeting, the purpose of which is to clarify the critical issues to be considered at the hearing sessions, and to explain the procedures to be followed. Where no pre-hearing meeting is held these matters will be dealt with through a written note from the Inspector.
The subject of the hearings is determined by the Inspector based on the documents submitted by the local planning authority and the representations that have been made. During the hearings the Inspector may ask participants to provide additional information by set deadlines. Such requests will be circulated to all those attending by the Programme Officer (an independent official who provides administrative support to the Inspector).
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What if modifications are required to make a submitted Local Plan sound?
The Inspector can recommend ‘main modifications’ (changes that materially affect the policies) to make a submitted Local Plan sound and legally compliant only if asked to do so by the local planning authority under section 20(7C) of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act as amended). The council can also put forward ’additional modifications’ of its own to deal with more minor matters.
Where the changes recommended by the Inspector would be so extensive as to require a virtual re-writing of the Local Plan, the Inspector is likely to suggest that the local planning authority withdraws the plan. Exceptionally, under section 21 (9) (a) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the Secretary of State has the power to direct a local planning authority to withdraw its submitted plan.
Inspectors will require the local planning authority to consult upon all proposed main modifications. Depending on the scope of the modifications, further Sustainability Appraisal work may also be required. The Inspector’s report on the plan will only be issued once the local planning authority has consulted on the main modifications and the Inspector has had the opportunity to consider the representations on these.
Whether to advertise any ‘additional modifications’ is at the discretion of the local planning authority, but they may wish to do so at the same time as consulting on the main modifications.
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What happens if a Local Plan is found unsound?
Where the Inspector concludes that the duty to cooperate or other basic procedural requirements have not been met, or there are fundamental issues regarding the soundness of the plan that cannot be addressed through modifications, it will be recommended that the submitted plan is not adopted. In these circumstances the local planning authority will be unable to adopt the Local Plan and it should be withdrawn in accordance with regulation 27 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012.
Speedy withdrawal of a plan in such circumstances provides certainty to the local community, applicants and other interests about the status of the planning framework in the area. Until a revised plan is brought forward to adoption, any existing Local Plan policies will remain in place.
Following withdrawal of a Local Plan from examination a Local Planning Authority should consider whether to republish under Regulation 19 or reconsult under Regulation 18 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 and what matters this republication or reconsultation should address.