Temporary Changes Made to Planning System in Response to COVID-19
There have been concerns from applicants and local planning authorities about the implications of COVID-19 on the planning system. In order to address this, the government have announced a range of temporary changes. They have confirmed that legislation will be introduced to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period, to allow planning committees to continue. Councils have also been encouraged to further utilise technology rather than face-to-face meetings, and to consider delegating committee decisions where appropriate. Local authorities have been encouraged to work with their community and stakeholders to progress plans, albeit adjusting timetables where necessary – this is essential to support the economy and neighbourhood planning. The Coronavirus Bill (introduced to parliament on 19th March), contains provisions to enable the postponement of neighbourhood planning referendums and electoral events where required.
Councils have also had concerns about their ability to process planning applications within statutory timescales. In a situation where a planning authority is unable to consider a permitted development prior approval application within the deemed consent period, the authority can work to agree an extended approval date with the applicant. Where an agreement cannot be reached, authorities may need to consider whether prior approval is refused if the application cannot be considered with the required attention. Planning authorities should however use their discretion on the enforcement of other planning conditions which hinder the effective response to COVID-19.
Also in response to the spread of COVID-19, pubs, restaurants and cafes are no longer open but can provide takeaway services – this right is covered by legislation with a permitted development right coming into force on 24th March 2020 for twelve months. This new permitted development right will enable pubs, cafes and restaurants to operate as hot food takeaways, in addition to cold and pre prepared food for takeaway for a period of twelve months – after this time, a planning application would be required for continued use as a takeaway.
In light of the current situation, The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has published further guidance on how it will continue to carry out its duties under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the Planning Act 2008. While some site visits, hearings, inquiries and events are to be cancelled or postponed, PINS is considering alternative arrangements where possible and a further update is expected to be released shortly.