• Mary Breakell

30 November 2018 Newsbrief 40 Delay to Hearings Explained

Newsbrief no 39 reported that the start of the Planning Inquiry Hearings on the Lancaster Local Plan had been postponed and would not now be starting on 8th January 2019.  No further information was available at the time.

We now have an explanation for the postponement and it comes in the form of a letter from Richard McCoy, the planning inspector, to Lancaster city council.  This letter has been posted on the council website as part of the examination hearing library. It is therefore in the public domain and indeed has already attracted some media attention (eg https://www.placenorthwest.co.uk/news/progress-on-lancaster-local-plan-delayed/).  

Key extracts from the Inspector’s letter include the following statements :

This link will take you to the full text of the letter : http://www.lancaster.gov.uk/assets/attach/4259/Lancaster%20vers%202.pdf

“I indicated that in view of this “update” the Council would be unlikely to be able to commit to the Hearings starting on 5th November 2018. I also made it clear that I would be issuing my Initial Questions (IQ) on the basis of the original Plan (which the Council had submitted because it considered the Development Plan Documents to be sound). The Council confirmed that the outcome of the suggested modifications consultation would be submitted on 9 October 2018 and requested moving the Hearings commencement date to either 10 December 2018 or 7 January 2019. …. I agreed to move the commencement to 7 January 2019.”

“While the Council responded to my IQs, the expected modifications consultation evidence was not submitted as promised and... I expressed my concerns to the Council regarding the lack of detail coming forward and the implications for the timetable in respect of preparation for my Matters, Issues and Questions, the Hearings dates, timetable and Guidance, and allowing time for those who wish to prepare Hearings Statements.”

“I would also remind the Council……. that it is for me to consider how any suggested modifications to the submitted Plan should be addressed and therefore, whether they are necessary for the soundness of the Plan and acceptable….., once submitted for examination, the substance of a submitted plan can only be changed through a process of main modifications (MMs). These can only be made if they are (1) recommended by the Inspector and (2) necessary to achieve a sound plan.”

“....I am concerned that there is no provision in statute that allows the Council to revise and re-submit a plan that has already been submitted to the Secretary of State for examination without first withdrawing it. I consider that it would not be lawful to examine/make recommendations on what purports to be a “revised plan” as there is no statutory basis to do so. The Plan being examined is therefore the originally submitted and not the revised Plan. My report will recommend MMs to the originally submitted Plan, but only where necessary to achieve soundness.”

“Therefore, should the Council decide not to withdraw but rather proceed on the basis of the originally submitted plan subject to the updated evidence, I would like to know at this stage if the Council considers, as a result of the additional work undertaken, that any aspect of their Plan is unsound and if so what they propose to do to remedy the situation? I will require the Council to divide any suggested changes it wishes to make to the Plan into two schedules, one covering potential main modifications and the other, suggested additional modifications.”

“That being the case, and notwithstanding the Council’s recent email dated 9 November 2018 outlining further steps the Council wishes to take, I would prefer that the Council does not engage in carrying out any further evidence work or suggested changes to the plan before first discussing and agreeing that work with me.”

“The Council would also need to set out whether or not this additional evidence has been consulted upon…... to ensure fairness. If not, then consultation will be required and the Council should set out a clear timetable for this to take place. The Council should be aware that it will not be possible to hold hearings on any matters which are informed by these additional studies/evidence until the consultation has been concluded.”

“The Council should clearly set out a timetable for this work and the likely commencement date for the Hearing sessions. This timetable will need to factor-in the time now needed to deal with any representations submitted in response to the Council’s consultation……... I will have to take these into account and I will need to offer those who are objecting the chance to be heard at the upcoming hearing sessions.”

As you can see, the Inspector is far from happy with the city council and has raised some substantial objections.  It is also re-assuring that he emphasises the need to allow proper time for consultations and for those, like CLOUD, who intend submitting hearing statements.  We do not yet know the council’s response, but will pass on any further information as soon as it comes available. We can now see that the delays to the start date of the examination hearings are due to the council.  We have no idea of the rescheduled date, but it seems pretty clear that the delay could be measured in months rather than weeks.

If CLOUD members hear any further news, please let us know.  We live in interesting times!

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