Planning Inspectorate's Updated Guidance

Last updated: 8 March 2022

In response to the Governments 'Living with Covid Plan' the Planning Inspectorate has further updated its guidance in respect of site visits, hearings, inquiries and events. Below we set out the current position based on  updated guidance published 8 March 2022.

Further advice regarding the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak on planning law, and how to prepare for any impact on your business, is offered by the Freeths Planning team. Please contact us should you wish to know more.

Coronavirus Planning Update: Plan A - the Planning Inspectorate's latest position on case work arrangements.

The Planning Inspectorate (PI) last updated its guidance on casework arrangements on 21 January 2022 in response to the Government's decision to put in place 'Plan A'. However, since the Government published the plan for 'Living with Covid', the PI has further updated its guidance as of 3 March 2022.The PI's latest position on casework arrangements is as follows:

  • site visits will continue and Inspectors will adhere to government guidance on the use of face coverings (wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, especially where coming into contact with people you do not usually meet, when rates of transmission are high)
  • hearings and inquiries are being arranged by local planning authorities (LPA's)and order making authorities (OMA's) (except for national infrastructure where the applicant is the organiser)
  • hearings and inquiries are entirely in person, entirely virtual or a mix of the two
  • where participants (including the Inspector) need to present evidence or participate virtually this will need to be facilitated by the LPA, OMA or national infrastructure applicant arranging the hearing or inquiry
  • where in-person events or elements are planned, the LPA, OMA or national infrastructure applicant arranging the event must be prepared for the hearing or inquiry to be held fully virtually at short notice and without postponement
  • it is the responsibility of the LPA to ensure that there are adequate safety measures in place as per government guidance

To ensure that staff and customers remain safe, the guidance also requests that customers:

  • inform the PI as soon as possible if they are unable to attend, or feel that it is unsafe for an inspector to attend, a site visit for any reason
  • use the appeals casework portal for new appeals
  • use the appeals casework portal for making comments on appeals
  • email/ ring their case officer directly
  • do not post written correspondence to Temple Quay House if possible, to avoid any delays in the process.

A link to the updated guidance dated 3 March 2022  from the PI and the updated detailed guidance in relation to specific casework events as noted below can be found here. The previous guidance on virtual events, Guidance for Local Planning Authorities and others hosting virtual events for the Planning Inspectorate, which was last updated on 25 November 2021, remains applicable. A copy of the guidance can be found here. The PI updated several detailed guidance notes in January which remain applicable as follows:

  • Planning Appeals, Rights of Way and Commons Act 2006 - site visits hearings and inquiries - Updated 21 January 2022 (England) - Coronavirus (COVID-19).

This guidance states that in relation to site visits:

    • These will still be arranged where safe to do so and Inspectors will continue to undertake site visits in line with Government guidance on working safely during the pandemic. Social distancing is to be maintained and the wearing of masks is encouraged unless people are exempt from wearing them.
    • If access is required to residential buildings, Inspectors will only proceed if social distancing rules can be maintained.
    • If a site visit involves entering a tenanted property, the appellant is required to confirm in writing before the site visit that it is safe and, if practicable, vacant access can be provided to all internal rooms that the Inspector needs to see and that any occupants have been made aware of this prior to the date of the visit. Confirmation of these arrangements will be sought before the site visit starts.
    • Likewise, in relation to commercial premises, confirmation will be sought from the appellant that the site visit can be undertaken whilst maintaining social distancing before agreeing to a visit and at the start of the visit.
    • Case officers will contact relevant parties and OMA's to make any required arrangements.

A copy of the guidance can be found here.

  • Local Plan Examination - Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Updated 21 January 2022.

This guidance leaves the decision as to the best method for proceeding to be determined by the Inspector in liaison with the LPA, stating that:

During the pandemic hearing sessions for Local Plan and CIL Examinations have been taking place by a mix of virtual, blended and physical formats (hosted by the Local Planning Authority), depending on the particular circumstances of the examination and the national situation at the time. The appointed Inspector(s) determine the format of the sessions in close liaison with the LPA.

The Government expects everyone involved in the planning process to engage proactively. We request that Programme Officers, LPAs and all participants use their best endeavours to work with the Inspector to help progress examinations, collectively putting in place the practical measures needed to ensure fair participation. Ultimately, decisions about how to move examinations forward are at the discretion of the Inspector appointed to hold the independent examination.

  • NSIP Events - Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Updated 21 January 2022.

The guidance states that from 27 January 2022 the PI will consider conducting examinations with the option of both in-person and virtual attendance and the Examining Authority will consider the most appropriate format for the event.

The Examining Authority will also be able to make procedural decisions to change the examination timetable, the format of events and to vary the format based on the needs of those who are participating and the requirements of the examination process.

The National Infrastructure webpage will be updated with details of each project. A link to that webpage can be found here.

The PI has urged the use of submissions by email instead of by post to avoid any delays as there are limited numbers of staff working in the office.

With regards to advice on Participating in Examinations the guidance states that:

Examinations are continuing via written/electronic submissions and the publication of documents online.

Further detailed guidance on how examinations are held virtually can be found here.

Letter from Graham Stallwood to Chief Planning Officers dated 21 January 2022

In January 2022 Graham Stallwood, Director of Operations at the PI, wrote to LPA's advising all LPAs to take necessary steps to ensure that they have the right plans in place for both in-person and virtual hearings and inquires in response to the Government's plan to move to Plan A. The letter clarified that from 21 January 2022 all newly organised hearing and inquires will return to the format used between September 2021 and December 2021. The letter advised LPAs and OMAs that:

“In practice this means some hearings and inquiries will be wholly in-person, some will be wholly virtual, and some will be a mixture of the two. Where a participant needs to take part virtually it is expected that the need is facilitated by the event arranger. That can mean an individual watching or giving evidence virtually, through to the whole event being virtual, as all events were during the lockdowns.”

With regards to hearings and inquires that have already been organised as fully virtual events, these will generally continue as planned. The Inspector may however decide to introduce in person elements in cases where the importance of any specific needs of a party or parties outweighs the effort involved in making the necessary in-person arrangements.A link to the letter can be found here and remain applicable still in light of the more recent 'Living with Covid' plan.

The Planning Inspectorates proposals to create a sustainable and robust 'operating model' for the future

During the COVID-19 pandemic the PI has had to adapt to a changing world and move casework events online. Whilst the practical running of such events has now been handed back to LPAs, the PI has clearly reflected on whether this temporary response could or should be made more permanent. In November 2021, Rebecca Phillips, Professional Lead for Appeals, wrote about the future of casework events and proposals to create a more sustainable and robust operating model for the future stating:

“Like the rest of the world, our reliance on video conferencing surged. But, as Martin O'Brian our Head of Digital Services set out in his blog in May, what started as a short-term response to keep our casework moving during the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated our ambitions to me a more digital and innovative organisation.”

With this in mind, the PI undertook research over the summer of 2021 which included seeking the views of internal staff and obtaining feedback from those who participate in casework events. The PI also commissioned the RTPI to undertake research with a wide range of stakeholders with a view to making recommendations to inform the PI's future operating model.Key findings from the research indicate a strong case for virtual events having a more permanent role in caseworks events in the future. The RTPI's report recommends “that virtual events should form an integral part of the operating model going forward, but the format of the event should be decided on a case-by-case basis.”The PI will continue to develop and test scenarios based on the conclusions that are emerging from the research and will share its new operating model in Spring 2022.A link to the full article can be found here.

Whilst you are here we would also recommend our additional Coronavirus planning updates:


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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