Independent Examination

by Ed Dade

The purpose of the Independent Examination is to check whether the Neighbourhood Plan meets the basic conditions and other legal matters.

In summary, the basic conditions which a Neighbourhood Plan must meet are:

  • The plan must have regard to national planning policies and guidance (such as the NPPF and PPG)
  • The plan will help deliver sustainable development (see NPPF, para. 8)
  • The plan is in general conformity with the Local Plan's strategic policies
  • The plan is compatible with EU obligations, for example the plan will not result in harm to the environment or habitats and will not breach anyone's human rights 

Further info is available from the Planning Practice Guidance website.

The examiner will carry out other legal checks, for example checking the plan doesn't include policies relating to minerals and waste development or national infrastructure projects. 
The examiner will also decide which areas will be able to vote in the referendum. Usually people living within the Neighbourhood Area (and who are eligible to vote) will be able to vote in the referendum. In some exceptional circumstances, the examiner may set a different boundary for the referendum.

Appointing an examiner

Following submission of a Neighbourhood Plan, the district council will appoint an examiner. The examiner must be independent of the district council and parish council or neighbourhood forum and hold the relevant experience and qualifications to examine the plan. The district council will likely follow its own procurement rules when inviting quotations from potential examiners. This ensures the process is fair, open and transparent.

The district council should discuss the proposals it receives from potential examiners with the parish council / neighbourhood forum, and gain their consent before appointing the chosen examiner.

Examination process

Most examinations are carried out through written representations, without the need for a public hearing session. This means that the district council will send the appointed examiner all the relevant documents, including comments from the public, he or she needs to examine the plan. 
In some exceptional cases, the examiner may choose to hold a hearing session. This is a special public meeting, led by the examiner, allowing the examiner opportunity to ask people some questions. 

The examination process (without a public hearing) will generally take approximately 6-8 weeks. Once complete, the examiner will send the district council a report setting out their findings and recommendations.

Outcomes of the examination

Where a plan meets the basic conditions and all other legal requirements, the examiner will recommend the plan proceed to referendum. 

Where a plan does not meet the basic condition and all other legal requirements, and is not capable of meeting them, it will fail.

For most plans, the examiner will conclude that some changes will need to be made to the plan, in order for it to meet the basic conditions (and other legal requirements). These changes are known as modifications. The examiner will usually either describe how a policy should be changed, or propose some alternative policy wording.

The parish council and district council will usually need to agree how the plan will be modified, in accordance with the examiner's report.

Once the plan has been modified, it will now be in its final form and cannot be changed. After the district council has received the modified plan (often referred to as the 'referendum version'), it will proceed to arrange a referendum.

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