How to engage with UK's virtual planning inquiries

Out-Law Analysis | 14 Jul 2020 | 12:10 pm | 1 min. read

The Planning Inspectorate in England and Wales has said that virtual hearings will still be used in some cases once lockdown is eased. 

There are important differences between virtual and physical inquiries and some action you should take if attending a virtual inquiry.

Timetable

The time allocated for a virtual inquiry is likely to be longer than for a physical inquiry. Virtual inquiries will take place on Microsoft Teams, although attendees can also dial in on a telephone. The inquiries will be broken up into sessions that last no longer than 90 minutes each.

Format

Inspectors will decide in advance whether to deal with issues by round table discussion or by traditional examination in chief and cross examination. The pace of questioning is likely to be slower than in physical inquiries due to restrictions around more than one person speaking at once.

There may be opportunities to use difference technology, for example giving evidence in chief via a Power Point presentation.

Preparation of documents

It is thought that parties will have to prepare and submit more evidence in advance of virtual inquiries. For example, written summary statements on specific issues may have to be submitted in advance.

Parties may be required to submit a list of documents that they intend to refer to in advance of a particular session at a virtual inquiry.

Public access to documents

Documents which have been shared with the inspector in advance of an inquiry will be made available online.

Public attendance at inquiries

Members of the public can join sessions and, if agreed in advance with the inspector, can ask questions and make submissions.

Private discussions

It will be more important for parties to discuss and agree their position on the main points in advance. However, advocates can request a short break at any time to take instructions.

Parallel virtual meetings are likely to be used by inquiry teams to ensure communication can take place while the inquiry is in progress.

Tips for virtual planning inquiries

Keep proof of evidence concise and focused on the main issues.

Discuss how participation by third parties will be managed at the case management conference.

Collaboration between the parties and with the inspector is important so discuss the central points and any procedural issues at the case management conference.

Participants should do a 'test run' to check internet connection, audio, lighting, and background noise. This will allow any issues to be sorted out before the inquiry starts.

It is a good idea to create a team WhatsApp group so that team members can communicate between each other during the inquiry.

Witnesses should try to speak slowly to allow inspectors time to locate the correct part of the evidence in their notes and to interject more easily if clarification is needed.

Co-written by Millie Foster