Roland Bolton shares the benefit of his experience giving evidence at planning hearings.
1. Be honest about your role as a professional witness. This is not simply to articulate your client’s position be that the council, a community group or a commercial client. It is primarily to assist the decision maker with the information about the specialist area which is necessary before a decision can be made. This requires you to be independent, impartial and objective. This role means that you have to take into account all relevant facts, including the inconvenient ones, such as other professionals who have expressed an opposing or different view. This can mean that you are not the right person to represent the client in some circumstances.
2. Be clear about the facts of the case on which you base your planning judgement. This can include your knowledge or other identifiable sources of information. It is better to include all facts and a discussion as to their relevance or weight rather than simply omitting inconvenient facts or details.
3. Be prepared for cross examination. Understand the case being pursued by other parties and identify the difference in any factual material and the subsequent judgements that have been made to result in the professional difference of opinion. Try and resolve factual differences prior to inquiry or hearing through a Statement of Common Ground and identify those matters which are not agreed also. Understanding the other side's case will assist in answering the questions that are put to you and allow you to explain why opinion differs on those matters that are not agreed.
4. Be patient and answer the questions that are put to you in simple terms. You can always caveat your answers or provide additional explanation after you have answered the question. Remember, re-examination will provide you with the opportunity to clarify how you have arrived at your professional opinion.
5. Be heard. Make sure you understand how any public address system works - if possible test it beforehand. Being constantly asked to repeat or speak up will interrupt the flow of any argument you are making and might mean that points are misunderstood by other parties including the inspector. It is often worthwhile turning up early to make sure you are comfortable with the arrangements, especially if it is a new venue for you.
Roland Bolton is a senior director at planning consultancy DLP and has given evidence at numerous inquiries, hearings as well as at many development plan and regional plan examinations.