Examining planning inspector’s recommendations could extend to rewriting parts of draft local plan

As originally enacted, section 20(7) of the Planning and Compensation Act 2004 (“2004 Act”) provided as follows for inspectors appointed to examine local planning authority local plans:

“(7) The person appointed to carry out the examination must –

(a) make recommendations;

(b) give reasons for the recommendations.”

In IM Properties Development Ltd v Lichfield District Council & Ors [2015] the claimant said that the examining planning inspector had exceeded his powers in recommending the main modifications to the local plan.

However the High Court said section 20(7) – 20(7C), introduced into section 20 by section 112 of the Localism Act 2011, contemplated that changes of substance could be made to the local plan.

Section 20(7C) of the 2004 Act permitted a local planning authority to request an inspector to recommend modifications to a plan in order to make it sound or legally compliant.

The statutory power could extend to the redrafting of text, or the deletion of a particular policy and changes that were either so significant or so extensive that they amounted to re-writing the plan.

The amendments to section 20 increased the opportunity for planning inspectors to recommend changes so as to enable local plans to be found sound.

Hitherto plans would have to be found to be unsound and so unable to proceed to adoption.

The Localism Act 2011 had changed that. There was no limitation in the statutory language preventing a “rewrite” of the local plan, when any change amounted to a rewrite.

The Planning Inspectorate’s Examining Local Plans Procedural Practice 2013 guidance was no way inconsistent with that. Whilst under section 19(2)(a) of the 2004 Act regard must be had to guidance, that guidance must give way to the legislative intention. In any event it did not claim to be exhaustive (e.g. “may consist…” in paragraph 4.24).

Anyway, the nature and extent of the modifications were a matter of judgment for the planning inspector.

The inspector had considered the rival submissions about strategy, and concluded that the release of the green belt sites was consistent with the plan’s urban and key centre strategy. The courts would not interfere with an exercise of planning judgment.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.