Careers Advice: Preparing for and appearing at public examinations

Examination

Appearing at public examinations for some planners can be a regular part of their job, particularly if you work in the private sector representing landowners or developers. But for many planners, particularly in the public sector, it can be a less frequent experience and feel quite daunting.  In my experience, whichever “side” you sit on, the secret to success is the same – preparation.

My top tips for a successful examination are:

  1. Know What to Expect

  • Go to other public examinations to get a feel for the format and to gain a better understanding of the different roles of the people around the table - particularly the inspector.

  • If you will be presenting your council’s local plan at examination, it’s useful to ask colleagues at other councils who’ve recently been through examination to share their experiences with you and your team.

  • If possible, get real-life experience shadowing or assisting colleagues attending an examination.

  1. Start Your Hearing Statement Early

  • It’s never too early to start your Hearing Statement! Allow as much time as possible.  You will need to write a Hearing Statement in response to the inspector’s examination questions and submit it by the inspector’s deadline following the format guidelines he/ she sets. Look at examples from other examinations.

  • Ensure your statement is logical and easy to read. Include details of any changes you are proposing to the plan and your reasons. Use paragraph and page numbering to enable you to refer the inspector to specific parts of your statement during the hearing session itself. Include all relevant maps, diagrams and other supporting material in the appendices or submit larger documents to the Examination library and cross reference in your statement.

  1. Share the Workload

  • You will probably be part of a team at the examination.  Ensure you know who the lead is (at the table) and who will support (usually behind the lead) for each hearing session or question/s. Understand your role and identify who else you need to help you, e.g. legal team, supporting experts, etc.  Ask others such as supporting experts to prepare responses to specific questions or issues and check you understand their views.

  1. Plan What to Say on the Day

  • Read all the other Hearing Statements for your sessions. Summarise the key points and make notes of your response, especially if you represent the council. Check with colleagues if there any particular areas of strength or weakness and agree how you should tackle them. Rehearse what you will say and what others may say in response.

  • If you are presenting the Council’s case at an examination, the inspector may ask you to introduce the topic or policies so prepare a few paragraphs just in case.

  • Keep alert throughout the discussion. Write down any points made by others that you need to respond to and write down the inspector’s questions to you. Don’t be afraid to ask the inspector if you have missed anything.

  • Ensure you say what you want to say as the debate goes along. If the Inspector is not ready for your contribution, he/ she will say so and “hold” you for later.

  1. Use your Presentation Skills

  • How you present your case to the inspector is as important as what you say. Be confident. Speak clearly and take your time. Project your voice so that everyone can hear. Set out your key points, including responding to others, and answer any specific questions.  If you get the opportunity practice in the examination room itself or somewhere similar in terms of size.

Claire Berry is director of consultancy Claire Berry Planning Ltd.

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