The Planning Inspectorate has unveiled plans for its first digital events in response to the social distancing required during the coronavirus pandemic.
The agency – which deals with planning appeals, examination of local plans and applications on national infrastructure in England – said it will hold its first fully digital hearing on 11 May and is preparing to run a limited number until early June, following which it will scale up the events.
It is also running a trial of virtual site visits involving 13 inspectors, and said five local advisory visits – which help local authorities progress their plans – have taken place remotely.
It is also assessing postponed cases to establish whether they can proceed by digital, traditional or a hybrid approach and is aiming to re-arrange them.
The changes had been in the pipeline for later in the year in response to the Rosewell review of planning inquiries, but have been pushed forward by the coronavirus crisis. The Planning Inspectorate had to postpone site visits, initially until the middle of May, due to the lockdown restrictions, but new cases have continued to arrive at normal levels creating a backlog of over 9,000 open cases.
It said It is working with other agencies such as the Law Society, National Infrastructure Planning Association and Royal Town Planning Institute on the changes, and looking to learn from how local authorities are running their digital meetings.
After the trials it aims to roll out good practice with supporting training, templates and communications, then develop the capability to conduct fully digital and hybrid events fairly for most of its cases.
“We must ensure this approach works and maintains the standards of fairness, public access and inclusion for the four main groups involved: the appellant/agent, the local planning authority, the inspector and any interested parties such as local communities,” the agency said in its announcement.
“Getting this right will provide an improved model which works now and after the current crisis and ensures we continue to issue fair and robust decisions and recommendations.”
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