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The following is an attempt to explain, in simple terms and in outline, the sequence of planning with reference to the proposed development of Whitecleave Quarry, Buckfastleigh.  If I get this horribly wrong, do let me hear from you.  First to set the context…

 “The planning system is used to make sure that things get built in the right place. It helps to balance the development the country needs – for example, new homes, factories, offices, and schools – with our need to protect and improve the environment. This balance is essential to ensure that development and growth are environmentally sustainable; that is, meeting the needs of the present without affecting the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  ‘Planning Permission: A Guide for Business’ Published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Crown Copyright 1998 Reprinted February/March 2006 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/2871/Planning_permission.pdf

Planning applications are decided in line with the Local Development Plan unless there are very good reasons to do otherwise. Points that will be looked at include:

  • the number, size, layout, siting and external appearance of buildings or works;
  • the proposed means of access, landscaping and impact on the neighbourhood;
  • sustainability, and whether the necessary infrastructure, such as roads and water supply, will be available; and
  • the proposed use of the development.

There are two different types of planning applications:

  • Outline
  • Full

After initial discussions and consultation with the Planning Authority/Planning Officer, a planning application is submitted.

The Planning Officer of the local planning authority assesses the application.

A number of organisations have sight of the application and the opportunity to comment and object or approve.  These are called Statutory Consultees.  There are other consultees depending upon the location and nature of the application and its proposed activities and potential impacts.

The body with the authority to decide whether the application is approved or denied (the Planning Committee of the Local Planning Authority or the Planning Officer) makes a decision based upon relevant law, plans and policies and the documentation placed in front of them.  Devon County Council is the Local Planning Authority in the case of Whitecleave Quarry.

If a planning application is denied the applicant can appeal the decision.  The applicant is then referred to as the ‘appellant’.

Appeals

“The appeal process should represent the last resort where agreement cannot be reached between an applicant and a local planning authority.”  ‘PLANNING INSPECTORATE GOOD PRACTICE ADVICE NOTE 08 – England’ See http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/uploads/pins/gpa_08.pdf

Appeals are considered by an independent Planning Inspector, appointed by the First Secretary of State.  Many appeals are handled in writing.  Others are determined by an informal hearing before an Inspector, and a few are determined after a public inquiry.  In the case of Whitecleave Quarry, it is a public inquiry.

Appeals are dealt with purely on their merits.  The applicant has 6 months to appeal from the date of notice giving the Local Planning Authority’s decision.  This gives the applicant time to sort out whether they can overcome the council’s objections for example by negotiation, mitigation measures or by amending their proposal.

In the case of Whitecleave Quarry, there have been numerous mitigation measures proposed by the applicant. There have also been discussions between the applicant, their technical consultants and Devon County Council, their Planning Officer and their planning consultant at Jacobs that has led to a ‘Statement of Common Ground’.  You can find the ‘Statement of Common Ground’ between Devon County Council and the applicant at http://www.devon.gov.uk/whitecleaves-appellant-dcc-final-22.03.13.pdf

In the case of Whitecleave Quarry, even after this process and agreement leading to a ‘Statement of Common Ground’ between the applicant and the Local Planning Authority, Devon County Council, objections remain.

The Inquiry

People attending the public inquiry at the Town Hall in Buckfastleigh have asked who is who, and why are things in this order?  Hopefully the following will help.

Before the inquiry, each party decide how they plan to make their case, for or against the proposed development.  They consider what evidence and witnesses will be needed to make their case a strong one.  Documents are prepared by each party, including evidence statements of witnesses, and all relevant documents that will come before the Planning Inspector are circulated amongst the parties before the inquiry begins.  In the case of Whitecleave Quarry, there are three parties – MVV the appellant, Devon County Council the Local Planning Authority and Buckfastleigh Community Forum.

I don’t know who sets out the timetable or how.  However it does strike me that effort seems to be made to make it fair between the parties in terms of how much time is given to hearing evidence from each and for examination of evidence.  The timetable does alter because it’s very difficult to predict exactly how long it will take to ensure that each party has the opportunity to gain clarity on the evidence presented by each witness and all the documentation, of which there are masses!!

So basically, the running order…

Witness presents their evidence.

Examination in Chief is next.  This is where the legal counsel (on the same side as the witness who has just given their evidence) has the opportunity to ask questions to draw out specific points in the evidence in order to strengthen their case.

Cross Examination is next.  This gives the opposing party (or parties in the case of Whitecleave Quarry) the opportunity to question the witness.  This can be to challenge the data or methodology upon which the evidence is based, or to gain clarification and understanding, or to point out gaps, etc.

Re Examination follows.  This gives the legal counsel, on the same side as the witness, the chance to address any questions raised by the opposing party (parties) during cross examination.

The Planning Inspector also of course raises questions during this process.  The inquiry carries on like this with each witness giving their evidence.

In addition there will be allocated time for members of the public in Buckfastleigh to present their views at the inquiry.

Unexpected things can arise that can result in the Planning Inspector requesting, say, further documentation.  For example, in this inquiry Ms Georgi Gilpin was asked by the Planning Inspector to produce the ‘Complaints Log’ for Whitecleave Quarry since they began operating on the site.

I hope the above is helpful.

(Kathryn Hughes, Buckfastleigh)

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2 thoughts on “The Inquiry Procedure

  1. Thanks Kathryn, really helpful.

    Please could you tell me when the final decision will be made? Is it on the last day of the Enquiry? And would any decision be final, or is that just the end of the beginning?! Sorry if this is already written somewhere and I’ve missed it.. Many thanks again.

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