COVID-19 has impacted the planning system and left many in a state of uncertainty. New legislation and guidance however continue to emerge, seeking to ensure the continued progress of applications through the different stages of the planning system.
An innovative and pragmatic approach to decision making and publicity
- Local Planning Authorities are asked to be pragmatic, work proactively with applicants and where necessary, agree extended periods for making decisions.
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government chief planner Steve Quartermain has asked Local Planning Authorities to ‘take an innovative approach, using all options available to you to continue your service’.
The planning system is seeking to adapt in response to the current circumstances. Given the issues surrounding carrying out site visits for example, applicants can be asked to display the site notice for their application and to provide detailed photographs of their site.
From 14th, May, temporary changes have been made to the statutory publicity requirements, including newspaper publicity and neighbour notification. This allows for other reasonable steps to be taken to publicise planning applications, for example, through the use of social media and other electronic communication.
Councils are also reviewing their decision making processes to consider delegating decisions to smaller groups of councillors or officers. Many are now starting to hold virtual planning committee meetings.
Virtual planning committee meetings
- New legislation came in to force 4th April 2020, to allow Local Authorities the ability to hold virtual planning committee meetings, for meetings scheduled before 7th May 2021.
The new act allows meetings to take place where not all of the attendees, or any of the attendees, are present in the same place. Similarly, the definition of the place where a meeting is held can include more than one place, including electronic, digital or virtual locations.
Local Plan hearings
- New guidance has been issued and the Planning Inspectorate are now working with two local authorities to hold digital hearings.
The Planning Inspectorate initially postponed all local plan, appeal and NSIP hearings and inquiries until further notice.
Updated guidance states that Inspectors will be asked to “explore with local authorities and Programme Officers how each current examination can best move forward ensuring fair participation, including at the hearing stages”.
- Changes proposed to allow a combination of procedures to be used.
Changes are being proposed through the business and planning bill currently being considered, to allow a combination of appeal procedures, written representation, hearings and inquiries, to be used at the same time, seeking to increase flexibility and speed up decision making.
- Wherever possible use electronic means of communication to contact planning departments and when submitting planning applications or additional information.
The current circumstances bring many challenges to the usual ways of working and how planning applications are validated, assessed and determined. As many officers will now be working from home email is likely to be the best way to get in contact. The Planning Inspectorate have also asked that appeal forms and evidence are not be sent by post.
For further information please see the following links:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Planning Inspectorate guidance – updated 25 June
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Planning update
- Chief Planners Newsletter – March 2020
- The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government new legislation
- Planning Inspectorate : Virtual events, greater flexibility
How we can help
Preparing for the future
Perhaps you are considering diversifying your business to offer additional services or looking to change the use of an existing building. Perhaps you are a home or business owner looking to extend your property, or are a housing developer considering potential new schemes.
Although there is currently uncertainty, this time can be well used to put plans in place, preparing for when normality returns.
Obtaining planning and planning legal advice
We can provide pre-application advice and guidance regarding the information that will be required to submit your proposal, as well as the relevant planning policy to be considered. We can assist you in preparing you application as well as providing planning legal advice.
Paris Smith Planning Lawyers and Planning Consultants can support you to consider your options and ensure that you are well placed to submit your proposals.
At Paris Smith LLP we are working hard for our clients to continue to deliver the results they need. Whilst working remotely and avoiding all social contact, we remain open and available to assist clients via teleconferencing, emails and telephone calls.
For any further information on the above issues or for advice on planning more generally, please contact:
Our previous blog “COVID-19 and the planning system – new legislation” talks about the new planning legislation brought in to support businesses in view of COVID-19.
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