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11/11/2014

Selection of neighbourhood plan examiners threatens integrity of process, says examiner

Words: Simon Wicks

The appointment system for neighbourhood plan examiners could lead to a situation where no neighbourhood plan will ever fail, regardless of its quality, a planning consultant has said.

Speaking at the Cornerstone Barristers’ annual Planning Day, Ann Skippers admitted that her work as a neighbourhood plan examiner had dried up since she failed the Slaugham neighbourhood plan in January this year. She was also satirised at a subsequent planning event as the only examiner who had failed a plan.

Describing the process by which examiners are “matched” with neighbourhoods as being like a “beauty parade”, she said: “There seems to be a tendency to only appoint examiners who have a track record in passing [neighbourhood] plans. Given the backlash I have experienced, I have a sneaking suspicion that no other plans will ever fail.”

Neighbourhood plan examiners are initially selected by the local planning authority and must then be consented to by the parish council or neighbourhood planning forum submitting the plan.

Slaugham’s was the only neighbourhood plan submitted to date that has not been passed for a local referendum. Skippers failed the plan for its inadequate strategic environmental assessments relating to green land designation, and its poor evidence in support of housing targets.

According to the Slaugham neighbourhood plan website, the parish submitted revised documents over the summer.

Despite her experience, the owner of Ann Skippers Planning and former RTPI president, defended neighbourhood planning in principle, saying that neighbourhood plans “give us more direction and more certainty about the things that communities are seeking”.

Though “challenging”, it “also brings opportunities” she said, and as “more and more go through the system a body of knowledge builds up” that will improve the process. “I want to make sure that these new style plans are done properly and they are done to a high standard,” she concluded.

Cornerstone’s annual Planning Day – themed around “Overcoming obstacles to permission” – also featured presentations by the chamber’s barristers on the latest legal positions relating to green belt development, renewable energy schemes, environmental statements, enforcement and paragraph 14 of the NPPF.

The event, held at the Royal College of Surgeons, also featured a panel discussion with Ann Skippers, Cornerstone’s Michael Bedford and joint head of chambers Mary Cook, on the effects of the localism agenda on planning and planning law. The discussion made particular reference to neighbourhood plans and local plans, assets of community value, and the Tesco vs Dundee City Council decision establishing that interpretation of planning policy is a matter of law.

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