As the government takes the first tentative steps to bring us all out of lockdown, measures to make it easier for the housing market and planning system to operate have been included in a raft of announcements made over the last 48 hours. These measures, when followed safely, can only be welcomed by everyone in the industry. They will further mitigate the impact of current events on the housing market and planning system, over and above the extensive efforts already being made at a national and local level to, as far as possible, keep local plans and planning applications moving.
Restarting the Housing Market
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced a series of measures to allow buyers and renters to complete purchases and view properties in person, while estate agents, conveyancers and removals firms can return to work while following social distancing guidelines. In addition, and as well as reiterating planning related guidance released shortly before the speech (see below), measures were announced to allow builders to agree more flexible site working hours with the local authority to assist social distancing, not least to ease pressure on public transport.
New Central Government Guidance
The government has released further guidance about how the planning system should continue to adapt to the ongoing situation, this includes:
- CIL: Amendments to the current CIL regulations will be introduced to help address cashflow issues for small and medium-sized developers with an annual turnover of less than £45 million. The amendments will enable charging authorities to defer payments, to temporarily disapply late payment interest and provide a discretion to return interest already charged.
- Publicity and Consultation for Planning Applications: New regulations come into force today (Thursday 14 May) which supplement the existing statutory publicity arrangements for planning applications, listed building consent applications and environmental statements. The regulations extend the minimum time period given to residents to make representations and remove the requirement for physical hard copies of certain documents (e.g. environmental statements) to be available for inspection.
- Local Plans: MHCLG are looking at temporarily relaxing requirements on community engagement and the need for physical documents. They are also engaging with the Planning Inspectorate on the use of virtual hearings and written submissions.
Significantly, the guidance includes confirmation that there will be no amendments to application time limits, with the rights of applicants to appeal against non-determination remaining unchanged.
The Planning Inspectorate has updated its guidance in relation to Covid-19, confirming that:
- Inspector site visits will now resume, breaking a significant logjam in the process.
- The first digital appeal hearing was deemed a success, and the Inspectorate is planning 20 examinations, hearings and inquiries in May and June. A major step towards Robert Jenrick’s request that the Inspectorate “make all hearings virtual within weeks”.
- A variety of methods need to be used when prosecuting these virtual events, reflecting the fact that the public have differing levels of access to digital technology.
As we have confirmed in previous newsletters, many in the planning industry have been struck by the great efforts that have been taken to keep the planning system moving through what are unprecedented events. It is hoped these further measures will build on that, and it is very likely that some of the reforms that are being brought in now will stick long after the current situation has passed.
If you would like to discuss the above further, please get in touch with Dan Sharp or a member of Rapleys nationwide team.