It may seem like stating the obvious, but the only way a local planning authority and planning inspector will know what your position is on a local plan is to respond to the consultation on the draft plan. I have long since lost count of the number of parties who, to their cost, did not seek to get involved until after the draft plan was submitted for examination, which is far too late.
Publication of the draft plan is the last opportunity to make comments before it is submitted for examination. It will also be the sole opportunity to indicate you wish to exercise your right to be heard (providing you are seeking a change to the plan). In practice, for the majority of local plan examinations, a formal hearing will be necessary. But do not assume you need to be heard. Equal weight will be given to your written representation.
Responses will be invited in several ways – through an online representation form, by e-mail or in writing. Read the advice on making representations in Annex 1 of the Planning Inspectorate’s publication, Procedural Practice in the Examination of Local Plans, which also includes an example form that local authorities may use to elicit your comments. Use of the form is not compulsory but may help all involved in efficiently managing the representations made. The Inspector will be looking for specific evidence or proof that the soundness tests and legal requirements have been met (or not met). If objecting to certain aspects of a proposal it is important to be specific about why you think the document is unsound, what changes you are seeking - putting forward your own alternative - and how the changes would make it sound. In these circumstances try to show that you have understood, yet still disagree with the local planning authority’s approach.
Where possible, identify statements, policies and proposals from other planning documents, the plan itself and the Sustainability Appraisal which support your case. These other documents could be national planning policy (e.g. the National Planning Policy Framework), other local planning policies or relevant technical reports and studies. The most effective representation is one that is precise and logical, so if necessary, put further detail and supporting evidence in an annex. A focused representation will assist both the local authority and the inspector, rather than them having to wade through copious, wordy material.
Local knowledge of issues and concerns is invaluable but try not to get side-tracked onto non-material or non-planning issues. Remember, your representation will be published by the local authority, so be alert to the public perception of what you write and the need for probity. Do not leave drafting and submitting your representation to the last minute. The strict interpretation of the relevant local plan regulation is that only those representations submitted within the consultation period are to be considered, so do not assume your late representation will be accepted.
Finally, don’t expect the inspector to refer specifically to your representation in their examination report. The inspector’s duty to give reasons for his or her recommendations relate to why it is reasonable to conclude that the plan is sound and compliant with policy and legal requirements.
Lee Armitage is a director at Intelligent Plans and Examinations (IPE) and formerly spent over 10 years in the Planning Inspectorate as the Head of Service responsible for local plan examinations.