Government to allow “virtual” planning committees
The government has now published draft regulations which will allow planning committees to continue in a virtual form during the current lockdown.
Whilst many local authorities have been holding pre-application meetings through videoconferencing, they have been prevented from holding planning committee meetings in this way. Current legislation dating back to 1972 requires all voting members of the committee to be together in the same room, which has proved impossible during the current restrictions. This has led to planning committee meetings having to be cancelled in many cases.
Some authorities such as Luton and Waltham Forest have already successfully tried holding semi virtual committee meetings. In these cases a small group of planning committee members met together in the same room with officers and members of the public present over a video link.
However, the new regulations will allow councils to hold fully virtual committees where different members of the planning committee can take part from their own homes with members, officers and speakers using newly popular collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
Under the new rules, virtual committees can take place so long as:
- Committee members in remote attendance can hear (and where possible see) and be so heard (and where possible be seen) by the other members in attendance;
- hear (and where possible see) and so be heard, by any member of the public attending the meeting in person or remotely; and
- be able to hear and be heard by any other member in remote access.
The regulations define a meeting being "open to the public" as including access through remote means including video-conferencing, live webcasts, and live interactive streaming.
It is expected that the regulations will come into force by early next week. DHA are strongly encouraging all local authorities where we have applications to make use of the new regulations and resume planning committee meetings without delay.