The Neighbourhood Planning Independent Examiner Referral Service (NPIERS) is a cost-efficient service which supports the neighbourhood planning process by providing quick and easy access to impartial and highly qualified examiners on an 'as needed' basis. It also provides clarity on how much an examination will cost.
What is NPIERS?
Communities are able to produce Neighbourhood Plans for their local area, putting in place planning policies for the future development and growth of the neighbourhood. This puts communities centre-stage, encouraging collaboration on planning at the neighbourhood level.
A number of industry bodies came together to develop the Neighbourhood Planning Independent Examiner Referral Service (NPIERS) which provides access to expert, impartial examiners when needed and is designed to support communities through this process. This resource has been designed by the following organisations, with support from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG):
Communities and local authorities can make applications to NPIERS free of charge to obtain an Independent Examiner from a panel of highly competent professionals. We use professionals who are highly qualified and regulated by professional bodies.
By using NPIERS, you are guaranteed:
- Access to highly professional, independent Examiners with a wide range of skills, knowledge and expertise specifically related to neighbourhood planning.
- An accessible service with guaranteed high levels of knowledge, professional standards and integrity.
- An application service designed to determine the amount of time an Examiner is likely to spend on the examination, and as you will know their daily rate, you will have a clear idea of the cost and time commitments involved.
Why use NPIERS?
The Service, which is managed and administered by RICS provides cost-efficient, quick and easy access to impartial and highly qualified examiners on an “as needed” basis.
You are able to apply to NPIERS for a pre-submission Health Check review of the neighbourhood plan, or for the referral of Examiners who are able to undertake the examination of the neighbourhood plan.
There is a set fee for Examiners, which provides transparency and clarity on how much an examination will cost. A real benefit of the service is that you only pay for the time you use the examiner, there are no retainer or other employment costs normally incurred by employing an expert or a consultant.
The benefits of using NPIERS:
- NPIERS provides quick and simple access to an independent Examiner who has been trained, assessed, interviewed and is regularly monitored by RICS and RTPI.
- NPIERS is supported by DCLG, which has contributed to the training and reassessment of the Independent Examiners.
- NPIERS gives you access to information and guidance on the process, and gives easy access to qualified Examiners who are knowledgeable on planning issues.
- NPIERS is administered by RICS, who provide a range of services including complaints handling and a free appointment service.
- NPIERS has a dedicated point of contact, providing consistency and confidence in the service.
RICS manages the appointment of NPIERS Examiners. The Examiners are professionals drawn from across the planning professions, and have specific skills and expertise in neighbourhood planning.
NPIERS ensures that Examiners:
- Have the necessary qualifications, expertise and knowledge to undertake specific tasks.
- Are able to work within timescales and other criteria required by the communities and local authorities.
- Are free from financial or other conflicts of interest in the outcome of the examination.
- Have appropriate professional indemnity insurance to undertake the relevant tasks.
- Maintain CPD through ongoing quality training and education.
- Are continually monitored and undergo reassessment to ensure they maintain performance and standards.
If, after an appointment is made, the Examiner is unable to undertake the task as required (for example, due to sickness), as soon as NPIERS becomes aware of the problem, it will endeavour to appoint another Examiner as quickly as possible.
What services does NPIERS offer?
You are able to apply for two services:
- A pre-submission health check review of your neighbourhood plan.
- A referral of an Examiner to undertake the examination of your neighbourhood plan.
The Health Check
Obtaining a Health Check before submitting your plan can give you valuable insights into whether your plan meets the basic conditions and whether it would be likely to proceed to the referendum stage. A lot of time and effort goes into preparing a neighbourhood plan, which will then be scrutinised by an Independent Examiner who will judge whether it can proceed to referendum or not.
Using an examiner to undertake a Health Check before submitting a plan will give you an insight as to whether the draft plan meets the basic conditions. The Health Check does not involve the re-writing of the plan, but gives general advice on what changes need to be made.
NPIERS makes no charge for you to apply for an examiner. The Examiner will charge £375 plus VAT per day (plus any reasonable expenses) to undertake a pre-submission review of your neighbourhood plan.
Groups writing a neighbourhood plan or neighbourhood development order are eligible to apply for a grant of up to £9,000 from Locality. Groups facing a range of complex issues may able to apply for further support from the programme.
Further details on funding opportunities
The Examination Service
The Examination Service allows for access to impartial examiners as and when needed.
Once a draft neighbourhood plan or order has gone through its pre-submission consultation, you should be thinking about sourcing an Examiner. The Examiner will consider the submitted documents and any comments made during the consultation period on the submitted plan or proposal. The Independent Examiner will examine whether the plan meets the ‘Basic Conditions’ and other relevant legal requirements (e.g. consultation).
The Independent Examiner may recommend that the plan proceed to the referendum stage (i.e. that it meets all the legal requirements) or may suggest that modifications are needed to the plan before it can proceed to the referendum. Undertaking the pre-submission Health Check before submitting the plan for examination will give your plan the best opportunity of being approved.
Experience to date suggests that a typical written representations only examination will take around 4-6 days to complete and if the examination requires a public hearing this can takeapproximately 9-11 days. However Examiners may well be working on other matters so this may not be consecutive days.
NPIERS makes no charge for you to apply for an Examiner. However, the Examiner will charge £750 plus VAT per day (plus any reasonable expenses) to undertake the examination of your neighbourhood plan.
How can I apply for a Health Check or an examination?
To request the referral of examiner(s) who are able to undertake the examination of your neighbourhood plan, please complete the NPIERS1 Application Form, and for a Health Check, please complete the NPIERS2 Application Form. Once completed, submit the form to firstname.lastname@example.org
You are only required to supply details of the official web link to the plan with your application. No further supporting documentation is needed at this stage.
What do our customers think?
A health check endorsement:
Initially Allerdale Borough Council used the health check review service offered by NPIERS in order to ensure that the proposed Cockermouth Neighbourhood Development Order met the relevant legislative and regulatory requirements. This proved to be a worthwhile exercise as not only did the review highlight some minor shortcomings in this regard it also identified elements of the proposed Order that required modification. The Council again opted to use NPIERS to ensure the appointment of a suitably qualified person to conduct the examination, with the ability to specify specific specialist skills considered important for the examiner to hold being a strong determining factor given the complex provisions of the proposed Order. The Council have been very pleased with NPIERS following their swift referral of highly qualified candidate examiners in both instances and would certainly recommend the service to other local (planning) authorities.
Gemma Beasley, DRS Operations Manager
t: 020 7695 1543
Mushtaq Ahmed, Deputy Appointments Service Manager
t: 024 7686 8349
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