15 May 2020

COVID-19 Planning Update – temporary amendments to the planning application process introduced

Guidance published on 14 May 2020 by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Good news for those looking to progress with planning, listed building and environmental impact applications in the lockdown period, as the government announces temporary regulations to enable publicity requirements to be achieved online with an emphasis on flexibility.

Legislation currently provides that an application for planning permission must be publicised by the local authority by way of a site notice near the development, by serving notice on neighbouring owners/occupiers and additional publishing a notice in a newspaper local to the development (the requirements being dependent on the type of application.)

The nature of these requirements has become increasingly difficult and often impossible to achieve given the social distancing and lockdown measures currently in place. This led to the possibility of significant delays to planning permissions being determined and having a knock-on effect not only to development management but also to other transactions conditional on planning.

In response to the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has published a planning update, including temporary measures to support the operation of the planning system amidst the current changes to the working environment. Concerns that local authorities were unable to meet the publicity requirements necessary to progress planning applications, as a result of the lockdown measures and consequential ceasing of newspaper publications, have hopefully now been addressed. It is envisaged that these temporary measures will help keep the planning system moving and assist development management in the current crisis.

The Chief Planner Newsletter on 23 March gave initial advice and these new measures outline a number of amendments to the planning application process to enable applications to be processed and determined in light of the current restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus crisis.

Publicity and Consultation for Planning Applications

  • The government has stated that from Thursday 14 May 2020 temporary regulations will be introduced to supplement existing statutory publicity arrangements, where these cannot be fulfilled, for planning and listed building consent applications and environmental statements for EIA developments.
  • The government guidance requires that where the local authority is able to comply with specific publicity requirement for the relevant application, they must continue to do so. For example, if there is a local newspaper in circulation in which the notice could be published, this must be carried out. However, where site notices, neighbour notifications and/or local newspaper publicity has become impossible to achieve as a result of coronavirus related lockdown measures, there will now be the option to use online media channels and electronic communication to satisfy this requirement. Social media in particular has been highlighted as a method to inform the relevant interested parties. The steps the local authority takes must be proportionate to the scale and impact of the development in each case.
  • Examples of electronic communication which have been suggested, include social media such as Facebook and Twitter, local online newspapers, council mailing lists and informing local neighbourhood groups and forums by email. The authorities will need to decide on methods most likely to bring the application to the attention of interested parties and could include local radio station broadcasts and the use of community noticeboards.
  • These steps will notify all those who are likely to have an interest in the application and will highlight where further information can be found which is likely to be on social media or in the form of other electronic communication. The update also provides guidance on what publicity measures will be 'proportionate' in the circumstances, with greater and more frequent publicity appropriate where the potential impact of the application is expected to generate a larger volume of representations.

Timescales to Applications

  • Under the temporary publicity requirements, the minimum period for planning applications to be publicised in local papers and on the council website has been increased from 14 to 21 days. The 30 day period for EIA applications and 21 day period for listed building applications, have not been altered.

Community Infrastructure Levy 2010 (CIL)

  • The Government has introduced amendments to the CIL Regulations to enable charging authorities to defer payments, temporarily disapply late payment interest and to provide a discretion to return interest already charged where they consider it appropriate to do so.
  • The above changes can only be applied to developers with an annual turnover of less than £45 million, and although these measures will not be open ended, it is hoped the amendments will aid developer cash flow in the interim. However, it should be noted that these provisions appear to be at the discretion of the relevant charging authority and it will be interesting to see how many permit reductions in CIL payments and/or payment deferrals, especially in times when the Council’s financial resources are even more stretched.

With these recent changes encouraging the planning system to move online and become more streamlined, transactions that had been conditional on the planning system working (including promotion agreements and conditional contracts) can now proceed. Those who were waiting for a government update before submitting applications are now free to go ahead with more confidence that it will not be unduly delayed. However, there are still likely to be delays to the determination process with some local authorities unable to provide their planning and legal officers with work mobile phones and/or laptops to enable effective and productive working from home. Some authorities have redirected their officers to front line duties which also leads to delays. Finally, we are also waiting for further measures from the Government, the most pressing being what happens to planning permissions where the implementation expired in lockdown and where developers were unable to implement the planning permission in time.

It is of no doubt that the move to a wholly online application process is welcome in the world of lockdown but whether it will continue once we return to the 'new normal', remains to be seen.

Disclaimer

The current global crisis is evolving rapidly, and the rules and guidance for individuals, companies and other entities to manage its implications are similarly fast moving. Notes such as this may be out of date almost as soon as they are published. If you have any questions prompted by this article or on any other matter relevant to you, please get in touch with your usual contact at Forsters.

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