Coronavirus (COVID-19) and planning

Last week Steve Quartermain issued his final letter as Chief Planner. It would usually have contained some reflections on his time in Central Government, but it was largely taken up with his thoughts on Coronavirus (COVID-19). 

The letter was positive and informative, showing real concern to ensure that emergency changes to the planning system gain as wide an audience as possible. I will run through some of the changes and Steve Quartermain's thoughts, in his own words - but first to quote directly from the final part of his letter:

"Planning is a wonderful profession and we have great people doing a great job. Be practical, be pragmatic and let's plan for the recovery."

Steve Quartermain, the nation's senior planner, is clearly proud of the planning profession and his thoughts and comments make it clear that he considers that the planners will lead the recovery.

PLANNING UPDATE – 30 March 2020

Decision Making

Some councils are concerned about the implications of Coronavirus for their capacity to process planning applications within statutory timescales. It is important to prioritise decision making to ensure the planning system continues to function, especially where this will support the local economy.

Use all options to continue your service and explore every opportunity to use technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can go ahead.

Consider delegating committee decisions where appropriate. The Government has confirmed that it will introduce legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period, which we expect will allow planning committees to continue.

Be pragmatic and continue, as much as possible, to work proactively with applicants and others, where necessary agreeing extended periods for making decisions.

There may be circumstances where a local planning authority is unable to consider a permitted development prior approval application within the deemed consent period. It remains important to prioritise these so that important economic activity can continue.

Enforcement

A Written Ministerial Statement was published on Friday 13 March which urges local planning authorities to apply pragmatism to the enforcement of restrictions on food and other essential deliveries at this time.

Local planning authorities should also use their discretion on the enforcement of other planning conditions which hinder the effective response to Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Planning Inspectorate guidance

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has published 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 will have to be cancelled or postponed, PINS is considering alternative arrangements where possible.

PINS will keep its guidance under review, which could change at short notice to reflect the Government’s wider advice. It is sensible to check the PINS website regularly for updates.

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Planning (MHCLG) casework

The Planning Casework Unit (PCU) at MHCLG will be continuing to deal with its regular range of cases. However, PCU will not be able to receive or process hard copy correspondence.

All correspondence for the PCU should be sent electronically to:

Local planning authorities should help to publicise this.

Permitted Development Rights

The Government has made clear that all pubs, restaurants and cafes should no longer be open for on-site consumption, but can remain open to provide a takeaway service for hot food - a permitted development right (PDR) which came into force at 10am on Tuesday 24 March for a 12-month period.

To support pubs and restaurants and ensure access to food during the emergency period, this new national PDR will enable pubs, restaurants and cafes to operate temporarily as hot food takeaways (A5 use class). To give greater flexibility, the PDR will also seek to cover cold and pre-prepared food for takeaway and delivery. The pub, restaurant or café will remain in its current use class during this period.

Conclusion

The letter goes on to add details for plan-making, neighbourhood planning referendums, neighbourhood planning, and new burdens funding. But the most useful revisions are, I hope you agree, set out above.

Steve Quartermain is firm in his belief in the planning system and those who work in it.  There is a renaissance coming once the Coronavirus dam breaks. The pent-up demand and desire will result in great design, statement buildings and targeted local delivery.

And it will be planners in the vanguard.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, or have other concerns about the impact of Coronavirus, please contact Mark Howard, Partner and Head of Michelmores' Planning team.

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This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Please contact our specialist lawyers to discuss any issues you are facing.