Careers advice: How to give evidence

Written by: Jez Abbott
Published on: 15 Jul 2015

Mark PowneyAt some point in their careers most planners will be required to give evidence at a planning appeal, on an application or at a local plan or community infrastructure levy (CIL) charging schedule public hearing/examination.

If you’re lucky, like me, you’ll get the opportunity to be involved in all types or maybe even others I’ve not mentioned.

Regardless of how many times you have to give evidence no one situation is the same as the next – the matters to be discussed will be different; the policy background and political landscape will be different; those involved in the process as either respondent or representing the council will usually be different.

The planning inspector in charge of proceedings will be governed by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) and other relevant policies. But they are human beings – and smart ones at that - meaning they too will have certain quirks on how they wish to run proceedings.

Giving evidence in a public forum is very rarely boring. The best advice I can give from my experience is twofold: decide on your key points, three to five generally covers it, and then prepare, prepare, prepare.

On the first point, the mistake I repeatedly made early in my career was to try and become a specialist on all aspects of a public inquiry – in addition to planning I tried to become an expert on the legal, urban design, transport, and environment issues. 

Not only is it impossible to cover such a wide range of technical expertise, it added stress and diverted me from the planning issues, which is why I was involved in the first place. So regardless of whether you are acting on the behalf of the council or a client such as a landowner or house builder, it is important you get to know the team you’ll be working with.

Preparation: do not prepare as though you’ll be the only person giving evidence. You’ll have limited opportunity so you’ll you need to be decisive in getting your points across – hence keeping it to three to five points.
Probably the most important point of all is to remember that public hearing and appeals are focused on ‘evidence.’ Therefore ensure the issues you discuss can be substantiated both in terms of their materiality to case and their impact (or not).

Finally, for me planning is about trying to find solutions sometimes across competing agendas. Coming across as though you understand these complexities makes you easier to listen to than those who operate at the extreme such as ‘this is completely wrong’ or ‘our position is right and we won’t budge.’

Mark Powney is an associate director at Boyer