The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis unprecedented in recent times, and presents the whole planning industry, from developers and local authorities to third parties, with a number of unique challenges. With the picture changing rapidly, there is a need for flexibility and foresight.
In response to the developing crisis, the UK Government has made a number of announcements, including setting out guidance, to clarify certain planning matters. These relate to some permitted development rights and the wider issue of remote access and attendance at planning appeals and hearings. Notably, however, has been the absence of any guidance relating to the practical impact of COVID-19 on extant planning permissions, particularly those that are nearing their implementation date. We will address these outstanding issues in a separate article.
Following the Government’s announcement on 23 March 2020 of strict new lockdown measures, with the possibility of more stringent measures to follow, a number of subsequent legislative amendments and policy announcements in relation to planning procedures have been made.
On 24 March 2020, the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (“MHCLG”) distributed a Planning Update Newsletter (the “Newsletter”). The Newsletter requests Local Planning Authorities (“LPAs”) to “prioritise decision-making to ensure the planning system continues to function, especially where this will support the local economy” and “take an innovative approach, using all options available” to facilitate this.
The Newsletter promotes pragmatism from LPAs and seeks that the relevant parties work proactively together. It recommends:
- Using technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can go ahead. The Newsletter foreshadows potential regulations under the Coronavirus Act 2020 to enable virtual attendance at council committee meetings;
- Delegating committee decisions where appropriate;
- Agreeing extended periods for making decisions, where appropriate; and
- Extending timescales in relation to prior approval applications for permitted development.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”) came into force on 26 March. Section 78 of the Act permits the Secretary of State (or the Welsh Ministers, as the case may be) to enact regulations in relation to local authority meetings in order to address issues surrounding remote access and attendance.