PINS chief reveals progress on resuming local plan hearings and site visits

Examination hearings into the troubled South Oxfordshire local plan could be held digitally next month while site visits for some appeal cases could resume this week, the chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has revealed.

South Oxfordshire District Council: local plan examination could resume digitally in June
South Oxfordshire District Council: local plan examination could resume digitally in June

Sarah Richards was speaking on Friday during an online event held by barristers from across the planning bar, 'Have We Got Planning News for You'.

In mid-March, PINS announced that it had postponed all local plan, appeal and nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) hearings and inquiries until further notice as part of its efforts to comply with government restrictions on social distancing and travel in the wake of the coronavirus.

Richards said that hearings into the examination of South Oxfordshire District Council's long-emerging local plan could be held digitally and by telephone conference in June, which would make it the first local plan examination hearing to be held remotely using such technology.

In March, the council was ordered by the housing secretary Robert Jenrick to continue the examination of its draft local plan and to adopt the document by December this year.

Speaking during Friday's event, Richards said that "practical arrangements have already started" to hold hearings into the plan "digitally" due to the coronavirus pandemic.

She said that digital events for "at least three" NSIP project development consent order applications were also planned for next month with other digital events for NSIPs and local plans "to take place from July".

Richards also revealed that site visits in relation to appeal decisions could start again this week.

However, she added that inspectors were also "triaging cases" to see whether a site visit is actually required.

She said: "We've got a lot of work to do in ensuring the health and safety of our staff, the inspectors who are going out on site. We will be looking at unaccompanied site visits and so on.

"It may take a further week to ramp up."

Richards said PINS would be focusing on the use of Microsoft Teams for digital events and said it would be helpful for parties to familiarise themselves with the software.

The digital event also featured regular panellists Charles Banner QC of Landmark Chambers, Paul Tucker QC of Kings Chambers, Mary Cook of law firm Town Legal, Sasha White QC of Landmark Chambers, and Christopher Young QC of No5 Barristers Chambers.

*NOTE: 'Have We Got Planning News for You' is organised by planning barristers from a number of chambers, not just Landmark Chambers as previously stated.

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