South Oxfordshire’s Local Plan examination will be the first in the UK to be heard online. Tim Burden, director at planning consultancy Turley, is somewhat bemused.
Virtual hearing sessions for the South Oxfordshire Local Plan will commence at 10am on Tuesday July 14, initially for four weeks, and will be conducted via Microsoft Teams.
Local Plan Examinations normally have restrictions on numbers attending each session, but of course this is no normal Examination in Public (EiP)!
The inspector has advised that in order to ‘ensure that the virtual hearings are effective, participating bodies must limit their numbers at each hearing by nominating one well-briefed spokesperson to speak for them’, although there may be exceptions to this.
The inspector’s recent guidance advises that ‘In the first instance it is important to note that sessions will be limited to a maximum of 20 participants per session’.
The right to participate in a hearing extends only to those who have proposed changes to the Local Plan in order to make it sound and legally-compliant and the inspector will consider all written submissions.
Of course, the history of this particular Local Plan is steeped in controversy, given the intervention of the Secretary of State and the instruction to adopt the plan before December 2020.
A total of 17,135 valid representations were received on the plan, but with just 20 participants allowed at each of the, approximately 25, examination sessions, it will be interesting to see how the Planning Inspectorate manage the proceedings and ensure that participants feel that they have a fair opportunity to address the inspector and argue their case.
Although it is pleasing to see the planning system continue to operate in these unprecedented times, and particularly plan-making, this is a somewhat curious plan to choose to be a first test case.
Although the professional planning world will be adept at using this technology by now, I would expect many local community groups and residents to feel that their voice is being restricted, either through unfamiliarity with the technology, or with the limitation on attendee numbers.
This plan will be under great scrutiny, so we can expect to see a few more twists and turns in this tale in the months ahead.
Image by Jonathan Billinger, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12499089
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