Examination process ruling prompts clarification call

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS)'s decision to refuse a request to examine an Essex council's local plan and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) proposals together sends mixed messages as to when examinations of the two documents should take place, according to experts.

Develeopment: decision for local plan and rate schedule to be processed in turn
Develeopment: decision for local plan and rate schedule to be processed in turn

The government's Planning Practice Guidance outlines that joint examinations of a CIL charging schedule and a development plan document provide "an opportunity for issues that are relevant to the charging schedule and the plan to be considered in a holistic way".

But last month, an inspector refused Maldon District Council's request for its local plan and CIL charging schedule to be examined concurrently, telling the authority that CIL examination hearings are unlikely to occur until next summer.

In a letter to PINS, Maldon District Council had said its local plan and CIL were "intrinsically linked".

But in a letter of response, PINS said it is usual practice when the documents are submitted together that the local plan examination is held first and is then followed by a CIL examination.

The letter explained: "It is not possible or practical for the necessary viability testing of your council's evidence supporting the proposed CIL rates to be carried out until such time as the examiner is satisfied that your plan can be taken forward and put in place."

David Coleman, strategic planning policy manager at Maldon Council, said: "It's no criticism of the inspector or the inspectorate. But it is still a frustration that things are moving very quickly in terms of planning applications. If we are not careful then there is a risk that we will lose out on some of the CIL revenue that we anticipated we would collect."

A PINS spokesman said it encourages councils to submit the documents together wherever possible. The spokesman added: "Where a plan and a CIL charging schedule are submitted simultaneously, when following examination an inspector is satisfied that a plan can be found sound, then examination of a CIL charging schedule can follow."

Michael Gallimore, partner at law firm Hogan Lovells International, said: "This situation does appear to contradict what is in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)'s own guidance. If this does represent a change in policy and guidance as to the appropriateness of local plan and CIL being considered at the same time, the DCLG ought to issue some revised guidance to that effect."

Stephen Ashworth, partner at law firm Dentons, said: "Doing your local plan first and then dealing with CIL on the back of that makes absolute sense. But if you have an inquiry going on there is no difficulty in holding the two together."

PINS also confirmed that a local plan does not have to be in place before a CIL charging schedule can be examined.

But Gilian Macinnes, principal consultant at the Planning Advisory Service, said the evidence that it is seeing "does not seem to demonstrate that viewpoint". She added: "If that is the view of PINS and the CIL team, it should be in the guidance so it is clear and transparent for everybody that it is possible to do it, as should guidance on what that means."

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