To understand how the planning applications are executed in England under COVID-19 restrictions, strategies of the central government and local authorities will be addressed and the way it has been performed by them in practice over the past few weeks will be examined. First of all, planning is one of the few businesses which is still operating. Steve Quartermain, the chief planner at Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government asked for the local planning authorities to be innovative in terms of doing their best to remain the business open and keeping the continuum of their service by using the all possible options to achieve this mission.
The New Legislation: Coronavirus Act 2020 In the meantime, the government passed the Coronavirus Act 2020, which has the force of law on and after 25 March. In section 78, this law props up one of the key practices of planning temporarily: council committees to gather in person when planning is laid out. This formed a potential legal obstacle to the adaption of the new situation by local authorities. On the other hand, thanks to the video conferences which are still allowed within the scope of this law, local planning committees are going on with meetings and decision-making online. The first meeting which is according to new regulations was held by The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea on 9 April. Moreover, the introduction of a temporary new planning class - DA- by the authorities is also another significant maneuver. This new temporary planning class gives an opportunity and permitted development right to the restaurants and pubs to keep operating as takeaways during the COVID-19 restrictions. On April 9th, the government also partnered a permitted development right that gives permission to health and local authorities to make provisions for the coronavirus emergency such as alterations of the use and tenancy of buildings and constructing transitory structures. Permitted Development to Extensions Approval Deadlines Steve Quartermain put forward in his letter that some of these permitted development prior approval applications might be prolonged due to the changing state of affairs. He states that in the particular situations that local planning authorities are not able to assess a permitted development prior approval, they may try to establish an agreement for an extended approval date with the applicant. Planning Applications Are Still Being Accepted Right now, in practice, the submission and validation of the planning applications may be still maintained online. In most regions, especially in all London councils, this practice is functioning. However, some authorities in other regions in England are still tackling the problems concerning their current systems. Traditionally these applications were submitted on paper in these regions, however, now submitting any application on paper seems unnecessary. The postal services are keep working and paper dispatches would be delivered, however, due to the new regulations council offices are mostly emptied, and architectural practices and planning consultancies are controlled now utterly distantly. Therefore, paper correspondence has no place to be delivered from or to. Councils admit that this new system they are not used to will affect their usual decision-making processes negatively by delaying them. However, these delays will be less important if the frequency of planning applications also falls simultaneously. More Decisions Have Been Assigned to Planning Officers Several authorities, before the legislation passed by the government that lets the planning committee to be executed online, turned decisions from committees to planning officers. Now planning officers take more parts in decision-making than they used to, even though committees are still operating in theory. It seems like the planning officers will keep taking more responsibility than committees under the current circumstances, and even in some councils, they will constitute 100% of the decision-making for the next month or two. On this matter, The Planning Officers Society will lead off in terms of guiding their members about the delegation of power in order to keep the new system work faster and fair during the COVID-19 crisis. Site Visits Usually, the processes that need the site visits by the planning officers are now going to be also accepted if the area is only properly photographed by the applicants since sometimes they cannot visit the area.
Current Problem Sections 1. Consultation Consultation with the public leads to one of the most complicated topics of the new planning system during the COVID-19 emergency. While online consultations remain untouched zone, the consultation which used to be published and advertised by physical notices, and letters to the involved parties seems to be a controversial issue since they are not being executed for now. The individuals with no digital access now might not reach an answer to the consultations since they do not see it. If they might not answer to the consultations, it is unclear that if this is going to be assessed as valid. Attorneys in this field predict that the applications approved during this period will be subject to legal problems if they are found to be controversial based on the insufficiency of the consultation. 2. Expiration of the Planning Permission From the perspective of the property owners which are subject to new law concerning planning permission, the issues are unveiled after the expiration of the planning permission in the next couple of months. They worry that if the planning permission will be expired for good and all, how to prove their businesses have begun operating if an inspector is unable to visit remains unclear. It seems like the inspectors only visit the sites in some particular situations and conditions even though each council is giving different signals on this matter. In the new legislation, there is no change or explanation based on the extension of the planning permissions yet, hence it could potentially create problems for developers, policy-makers, homeowners, and local authorities. However, after the Scottish parliament passed their new legislation that extending the duration of all current planning permissions at least for a year, the local government officials and developers pressure more to the English government during the lobbying for extensions. Pre-application Consultations Most of the local authorities had stated formally and informally that the pre-application services are being held by phone and video calling. For now, it was revealed that the pre-application system currently is not being offered by one of the London boroughs, and this brings up the question if there is more than one. The way local authorities handle the new system differs in so many levels and, in terms of providing the service in its natural flow, some of them performing better than others. Furthermore, it has been discovered that councils that offer video conferencing stated that the safety of the software they use varies from one week to the other. Therefore, data security creates a fluctuating quality to the service they provide which, in the end, results in challenges to keep the local government functioning. - The graph indicates the twist on the search trend of planning permission before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. Where Do We Go Next? The circumstances in the future depend on the duration of the current restrictions and legislation accordingly. Further applications and new legislation that further emergency measures that put in place, are possibly going to be prepared by the authorities if the restrictions will be more than another two or three months. However, the planning departments’ learning curve will be developed day by day, therefore, the enhancements and innovations on the way they conduct the business such as the trial of new online consultation systems will be more visible for the public and easier for the authorities. - Share your point of view and experience in working in planning and architecture during the crisis with us. Add a comment at the bottom of this page. Let’s take your new project together We look forward to helping you to achieve successful projects via creative design and planning strategies in the way we help our delighted customers.
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