COVID-19 is already starting to have an impact on the planning system and has left many in a state of uncertainty. New legislation and guidance are emerging, but with planning deadlines continuing to apply, businesses and developers need to be aware of the potential impacts.
New legislation to support businesses and developers in view of COVID-19
The government has brought in new legislation to support businesses through these uncertain times. Below are the legislative changes that have already been put in place as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Changes of use for restaurants, cafes and drinking establishments
- Legislation allowing a temporary change of use to enable restaurants, cafes and drinking establishments to operate as takeaways came into force Tuesday 24th March 2020.
Ordinarily planning permission would be required for this change of use, but this legislation is to support businesses that are no longer able to open and to help people self-isolate and avoid contact with others outside their home.
- Exceptions to the changes
Business owners must be aware that their premises may be subject to planning conditions preventing their use as takeaways and some businesses may have clauses under their lease preventing this use.
Overnight deliveries for food and essential products
- There has been a temporary relaxation of planning enforcement where this relates to planning conditions restricting the timing of deliveries, for example overnight.
This is to allow additional deliveries of food, sanitary and other essential products to supermarkets and other food retailers.
Increased flexibility for construction site working hours
- From 13th May, the Government expects local planning authorities to approve requests to temporarily extend construction working hours, where they are controlled by planning condition, unless there are compelling reasons not to.
The changes could allow working hours to be extended until 9pm or later, 6 days a week.
Developers will need to contact their local planning authority who will advise if their request can be agreed informally, of if a formal application will be required.
Future legislation – Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL)
- On May 13th the Government announced that they intend to introduce temporary changes to the CIL regulations to help small and medium sized developers
The current regulations include only limited flexibility to allow local authorities to defer payment, however the government has issued additional guidance regarding the current options, prior to the introduction of new legislation.
Keeping the planning system moving and participation in decision making and publicity
An innovative and pragmatic approach to decision making:
- 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. Some are also now starting to hold virtual 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 postponed
- The Planning Inspectorate has postponed all local plan, appeal and NSIP hearings and inquiries until further notice.
Their guidance states that local plan inspectors “will continue, where possible, to progress the pre and post-hearing stages of the examination, depending on the stage reached. However, it is inevitable that the progress of some examinations will be delayed.”
- 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 advised that appeal forms and evidence should not be sent by post.
Further information on these legislative changes can be found via the links below :
- Government to grant permission for pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways as part of Coronavirus response
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Planning update
- Chief Planner’s planing update newsletter – 20 March 2020
- Royal Town Planning Institute – Planners ready to support communities and businesses
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Construction update
How Paris Smith can help with your planning issues in light of COVID-19
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.
Our 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. Please do not hesitate to contact the Planning Team who are able to continue to provide an exceptional service in these uncertain times.
For any further information on the above issues or for advice on planning more generally, please contact either :
Our dedicated “Coronavirus – Legal advice and guidance” page has been set up to keep businesses, employers, the self-employed, employees up-to-date with the current legal position on Coronavirus related issues with advice from our expert team. It will be regularly refreshed as and when new updates are issued by the government and other regulatory bodies.