The impacts of COVID-19 are being felt across the globe, and the town planning system is no exception. Social distancing measures threaten to slow the system, given that:
- The Planning Inspectorate are postponing all local plan examinations, appeal site visits, hearings and inquiries. The decisions on how to proceed will be at the discretion of the individual Inspector, but this could mean more appeals being dealt with under written representations, although technological solutions are being considered, where feasible.
- There are an increasing number of planning committee meetings being postponed to uphold the social distancing guidance, although with no centralised guidance currently available to Councils on how to proceed, it will be down to each local authority to decide how best to avoid a growing backlog. This may encourage some local authorities to engage a smarter use of technology, or even a shift towards more applications being dealt with under delegated powers; however there is unlikely to be a seamless transition or centralised solution and some delays in the short term at least, seem inevitable.
However, on the other hand the government are already introducing a number of measures to ensure that the planning system doesn’t act as a barrier in these unprecedented times. So far, such changes include:
- The government are relaxing permitted development rights to allow pubs (Use Class A4) and restaurants (Use Class A3) to operate as hot food takeaways (Use Class A5) for a period of up to 12 months.
- In a Ministerial Statement, Robert Jenrick announced that local planning authorities in England should take a positive approach to ensure that planning controls are not a barrier to food retailers and distributors, as well as the freight industry to enable the delivery of food, sanitary and other essential products to be made as quickly as possible.
Evidently the news, impacts and responses are changing on a daily basis at the moment, but Rapleys will keep you up to date with these changes and what they could mean for your sites, applications and businesses.