What is believed to be the second virtual planning inquiry sat for 5 days last week, and will conclude with a 2 further days’ hearing this week.
The inquiry is taking the form of a Microsoft Teams meeting. Those attending log on before the inquiry opens at 9.30am, and stay logged on until it closes each day. The programme is based on 3 x 90 minutes sessions with breaks in between – subject to change where ahead of or behind the timetable maintained by the Inspector. These restricted sitting times have meant that a four days case is set to take seven.
There was a heavy emphasis on respecting the conventions of a real inquiry. The Appellant is represented by Chris Young QC, and the team gathered in two locations. Witnesses give evidence from a separate room and stay on camera during breaks (subject to comfort breaks) to confirm the absence of contact with other teams members. The team communicated by means of a WhatsApp group.
Simon Pickles represents the local planning authority. Its set-up is different: they have been unable to get together because of the unavailability of hotels. The team compensate for this by: extra preparation ahead of the inquiry; routine telephone conferences each lunchtime (whilst the inquiry Teams meeting continued, invisible & muted); and catch-up Team conferences after the inquiry closed each day. This has all worked well.
The Core Docs etc are available on the Council’s website. A genuinely important lesson learned has been the need for co-operation between the main parties to keep the website up to date. The co-operation on this has been, in fact, exceptional. The occasional ‘thumbs up’ or wave between advocates during the inquiry kept things moving along.
There have been a few technical glitches along the way, but the Inspector appeared to get the information he needed from the process and the experience overall was very positive indeed.
Simon Pickles appears for Chorley Borough Council.