For the next two weeks, a planning inspector will hear evidence from 11 witnesses on heritage, landscape, five-year land supply, sustainability, transport capacity, aviation flight paths, habitats and the consistency between the plan and national policy all virtually, over Microsoft Teams. In addition to the planning authority and appellant, two parish councils are taking an active role.
The appeal concerns a proposal for up to 150 residential units, public open space and associated infrastructure works on land off School Road, Rayne, Essex. It will be the most complex and lengthy planning inquiry to have been heard virtually.
There are a few necessary adjustments for the technology, for example, the evidence is being heard in three 90-minute sessions per day, both Mondays are sitting days and there has been a need for three case management conferences to arrange the details. Otherwise, the inquiry will run as normal, with evidence being heard and cross-examined, together with opening and closing submissions made by the parties.
If an inquiry of this scale and complexity can work successfully virtually it will be the key to unlocking the backlog of casework which has arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the planning system to get back to delivering the right homes in the right places and supporting the economic recovery.
Dr Ashley Bowes acts for Braintree District Council. The appeal reference is APP/Z1510/W/20/3247020.