In light of the current restrictions in place for COVID-19, many may be wondering where this leaves the planning system at the present moment in time. This note covers the following topics:
- Remote working and decision making
- Submitting planning applications
- Planning appeals
- Permitted changes of use of cafes, pubs and restaurants to food take-aways
- Section 106 agreements
- Judicial review
We are aware of many consultants, planning officers, architects and other built environment professionals working remotely from their offices, often conducting telephone and video conferencing where possible, which is largely keeping the system going. Clearly, face to face meetings, planning committees, site visits, appeal hearings and appeal inquiries have been postponed for the time being, however the “desk-top” work carries on.
Whilst physical construction work, at the time of writing, is one part of the sector that are still allowed to work on site, that might soon change.
The Government’s Chief Planner, Steve Quartermain issued a letter yesterday outlining that Plan-making and planning decision-taking should continue during the coronavirus pandemic, albeit sometimes to extended deadlines.
In addition, the Chief Planner is asking LPAs to take an innovative approach, using all options available to them to continue their services. The Government recognise that face-to-face events and meetings may have to be cancelled but are encouraging LPAs to explore every opportunity to use technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can go ahead. The Government is also encouraging Councils to 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. More information on this is awaited.
The planning system is one sector that has been going paperless for a number of years now. Applications and appeals can be submitted online and application documents and consultation responses can all be viewed on council web sites which means there is not really a need to visit a council office to view paper files of planning applications.
Whilst current social distancing measures will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the economy as a whole, there is no reason to suggest that planning applications should not be progressed and submitted in the meantime.
It often takes a number of weeks for applications to be processed, consulted on and determined, following which a number of pre-commencement conditions need to be discharged before any work can start on site. It therefore makes sense to have applications going through the system now ready for when social distancing measures start to be relaxed so that your site is “oven-ready” to go at that time.
Statutory deadlines for submitting planning and enforcement appeals remain and appeal submissions should therefore not be delayed. Clearly those appeals to be dealt with by way of inquiry will need a greater degree of consideration before submission because of the new “Rosewell” inquiry procedure as we have yet to have further guidance as to when hearings and inquiries may resume. In such instances, the availability of counsel and expert witness is a key consideration prior to the submission of an appeal where an inquiry is requested.
The Planning Inspectorate have undertaken some small scale tests using technology over the last week and are engaging with key stakeholders across the sector to work through the remaining challenges together. Likewise Kings Chambers and No.5 Chambers have joined forces and drafted a proposal to keep the planning system working, with solutions for planning appeals and Examinations in Public for Local Plans during this exceptional time. The proposals have been put to The Planning Inspectorate, The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Planning and Environmental Bar Association (PEBA) as part of a developing dialogue within the sector. We await to see the detailed proposals and the response to them and whether or not “virtual” inquiries will be trialled.
A key challenge for the food and hospitality industry is the closure of cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars during this time.
Yesterday, legislation was passed to allow a 12 month temporary permitted development right (PDR) ending on 23 March 2021 to allow pubs, cafes and restaurants to operate as hot food take-aways without the need for planning permission. To give greater flexibility, the PDR will also seek to cover cold and pre prepared food and will allow for takeaway and delivery. The pub, restaurant or café will remain in its current use class during this period. The PDR will be time limited to 12 months. Beyond this time, a planning application would be required for continued use as a takeaway.
However, owners of such businesses should note that they must notify the LPA in writing if the building and any land within its curtilage is being used, or will be used, for the provision of takeaway food at any time during the relevant period. This does not appear to require a formal application for prior approval, however a letter or e-mail should be sent to your local planning department as notification.
The legislation can be viewed by clicking here.
From current experience, S106 negotiations carrying on as normal, albeit with a slight delay in instructions/comments from officers as some of them are being called upon to assist in other local authority departments. Sealing/completing the document may also be slowed but as long we continue to engage with the Council leading up to completion, most are putting procedures in place to seal/complete on a certain day each week to limit the need for people being in the office.
The Administrative Court which deals with planning related Judicial Reviews and the like has issued a note, part of which states the following:-
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and further to the most recent Government advice regarding social distancing, from Wednesday 25 March 2020 until further notice the Administrative Court Office will no longer accept applications for immediate or urgent consideration over the counter or by post/DX”.
“Immediate” applications – i.e. situations where it is contended that irreversible action will take place if the Court does not act to prevent it, or where an expedited judicial review is required, will now only be accepted electronically.”
Apart from the above, as far as we are aware, proceedings can be issued in the usual way. If a hearing is required then we would be advised by the court as to how this will be dealt with.
In light of the above, our advice is to continue to prepare and submit your planning applications, appeals and legal challenges as far as you possibly can.
We hope that you will find this note helpful.
All of our team are working from home and it remains very firmly business as usual in terms of our service to you. All of our planners and planning lawyers can be contacted via the usual office telephone numbers, mobile numbers and email. We also have available appropriate technical equipment and platforms to engage remotely with all clients. We will otherwise be pleased to assist you with any issues you may encounter during this transition period.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or need assistance with any new planning / development projects, then please do not hesitate the Planning Team at Knights via our team leader, Carl Copestake in the first instance on 07816 855136 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.