33 Bedford Row leads the way in virtual planning inquiries

In: Article Published: Wednesday 28 October 2020


33 Bedford Row leads the way in virtual planning inquiries

Members of 33 Bedford Row have been appearing in virtual planning inquiries this month including a first in Scotland.

In October, the Scottish equivalent of the Planning Inspectorate conducted its first ever virtual planning inquiry in Scotland. The appeal was in respect of an objection by the planning authority against the development of a wind farm at Blarghour in Argyll. NatureScot (formerly SNH) also appeared.

Chambers’ Maurice O’Carroll appeared for the council before the inspector, Ms Allison Coard. The inquiry generally ran smoothly, albeit with some technical interruptions which were resolved so that all evidence and the two hearing sessions on conditions and planning policy held on the last day were able to be heard in full. A virtual inquiry was therefore preferable to any further postponement of the case which was originally due to be heard in April 2020, although very much second best when compared to an in-person hearing.

Prior to that, chambers’ Kevin Leigh appeared for the appellant, The Stemar Group Limited, in a 6-day virtual inquiry conducted over two different weeks concerning residential development on land at Apple Tree Mews, Bures St Mary, Suffolk. The appeal concerned interpreting the meaning of a planning consent including building tolerances in its implementation and its impact on the setting of a listed building and a conservation area. The inspector was Diane Lewis. Afterwards Kevin said that the inquiry, had run very smoothly. Another inspector had helped the inquiry inspector with the administration of the virtual hearing dealing with people logging in remotely each day and minor technical problems as they arose (mostly concerning microphones being left on and occasional poor connections). There were very few technical glitches and apart from several guest appearances of his cat, Daisy, everything went as planned. Kevin had already completed several virtual hearings over the summer before this inquiry and they too ran very well with each lasting only a day. The site visits in all cases were conducted separately, sometimes unaccompanied and sometimes accompanied.

Overall both Kevin and Maurice were very pleased with the way technology allowed clients to have their appeals dealt with instead of being delayed until post-pandemic circumstances permit people to gather in the traditional way for hearings and inquiries. Importantly virtual hearings still allow parties to deal with all evidence thoroughly including fresh matters and cross-examination of witnesses. Costs are also reduced as parties do not have to fund experts and counsel gathering from different parts of the country and staying in hotels. There is also a sustainable benefit since people are not travelling from different locations to appeal venues.

Hopefully virtual appeals will find their way into one of the forms by which planning appeals will be handled in the future which should save time and costs as well as being efficient while still providing full opportunity for parties’ cases to be considered thoroughly and fairly.

Kevin Leigh - Head of Planning, Property and Environment Group  - Kevin specialises in planning and land law including judicial review. In addition to all aspects of land development, his work areas include boundary disputes, rights of way, trespass and nuisance, restrictive covenants, hedgerows, high hedges and trees, and connected matters reviewing local authorities’ conduct. Kevin appears at public inquiries and hearings on planning and enforcement appeals as well as development plan examinations; and acts in both the criminal and civil courts in relation to planning and land law cases.

Maurice O'Carroll Seasoned junior with a substantial background in planning and environmental law. Conducts planning inquiries, judicial reviews and appeals spanning various sectors including renewable energy and residential property development. "Maurice is very user-friendly." "He is very experienced and doing a number of bigger inquiries." Chambers & Partners UK Bar 2021