How is Planning Responding to the Coronavirus Crisis?
The fast-developing Coronavirus crisis and associated Government self-isolation measures threaten to have serious implications on businesses, large and small and across many sectors. The Government has responded with a number of emergency fiscal measures and the relaxation of certain rules, including planning regulations, to help businesses cope with the ongoing crisis.
Allowing Pubs and Restaurants to Operate as Hot-Food Takeaways
The Government has announced that planning rules will be relaxed so that pubs and restaurants can operate as hot-food takeaways during the coronavirus outbreak. This is to be allowed through the introduction of temporary permitted development rights, introduced through Secondary Legislation, to allow the change of use from a pub (A4) or a restaurant (A3) to a hot-food takeaway for a period of up to 12 months only. Businesses will be required to tell the local planning authority when the new use begins and ends.
Relaxing Planning Controls Over Delivery Hours
Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for MHCLG, issued a written statement to parliament on 13th March, urging LPAs to take a positive approach to planning enforcement to ensure that planning controls are not a barrier to food deliveries over the period of disruption caused by coronavirus. Temporary disturbance to local residents is to be balanced against the “significant public interest of ensuring local residents have continued access to food, sanitary and other essential goods in their local shops”.
Impact on Planning Engagement and Decision Making
It is inevitable that the ongoing crisis will cause complications and delays to the planning system at all levels due to reduced staffing levels and inability to hold face to face meetings. The Planning Inspectorate has already been forced to postpone a number of Inquiries and Hearings and we have seen a number of Councils cancel planning committee meetings and even close Council offices.
DHA has been liaising with LPAs across the South East and whilst a level of disruption is unavoidable, it is pleasing to hear that the vast majority of authorities have robust Business Continuity Plans in place and are therefore already well set up for home working and to hold meetings using telephone or video conferencing software such as Skype or Microsoft Teams. Either of these packages allow split screens and sharing of documents and therefore we will be encouraging all authorities to consider their use to minimise disruption. DHA have already arranged and indeed conducted a number of pre-application meetings using such software.
Kent County Council Highways have advised that due to the abnormal traffic conditions at present, they will not be accepting any traffic survey data collected from 16th March until further notice. They are however willing to discuss potential solutions on a case-by-case basis and have confirmed that scoping meetings will continue via conference call.
DHA understand that the Government is due to issue guidance to LPAs regarding the ongoing operation of planning committees. At the time of writing, some LPAs are still planning to proceed with their next scheduled committees, whilst others have understandably been cancelled. Its positive to hear that many LPAs are exploring the use of technology to ensure “normal service” can apply. We are also encouraged to hear some authorities are also investigating the use (where appropriate) of delegated powers to ensure applications can still be determined remotely.
DHA continue to engage with LPAs and other stakeholders on a daily basis and are sharing ideas for best practice. MHCLG have advised Councils that the current Government advice will remain in place for at least 12 weeks, therefore home working and meetings held by telephone or video are likely to become the new norm through Spring and into the Summer. Should clients have any particular concerns regarding the implications of the ongoing crisis, DHA are well placed to advise.
In the meantime all DHA staff are available by phone and email and committed to continuing to provide the best possible service to you.
Should you have any particular concerns then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Alex Hicken, Managing Director