PLANNING COVID-19 UPDATE:
‘VIRTUAL’ PLANNING COMMITTEES COMING YOUR WAY VERY SOON
by DUNCAN HARTLEY
In my last communication on COVID-19 and its implications for Planning services (10-point action plan for National and Local Government), I referenced the emerging Coronavirus Bill. The Bill is now an Act and one of its outcomes is to empower the Secretary of State to make regulations to facilitate virtual committee meetings and council decision making.
This new measure was urgently required as we see some (thankfully few) local authorities deciding to defer rather than make decisions when they are most needed.
Jonathan Easton, Planning Barrister, Kings Chambers whom Rural Solutions regularly work with, has provided useful commentary on the regulations released over the weekend and we direct readers to that source to gain the legal viewpoints.
We shall see how quickly local planning authorities can adopt and adapt to these new regulations and get committees in motion. It is an absolute imperative that decision making is not stalled.
Special care will be required from planning authorities in enabling effective public engagement with ‘virtual’ Planning Committee meetings. Planning has pioneered public access to decision making in local government and it now has a new opportunity to further enhance public engagement in this important public service. Technology has proven an invaluable tool in live streaming committees, and it is only a short step to leave a lasting legacy of greater public involvement in democratic decision making. If this can be done, it will be a very positive outcome of the current crisis.
EXTENSION OF PLANNING PERMISSIONS FOR ENGLAND / WALES?
Scotland, in their Coronavirus Bill, has proposed up to a 12-month automatic extension to all planning permissions and the submission of reserved matters. We are lobbying the Director of Planning at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to include this important measure into England/Wales initiatives. This measure is an absolute necessity to give time to landowners/developers/individuals, who are being significantly diverted by keeping their operations/businesses afloat during these exceptionally testing times.
URGENT NEED FOR POLICY CHANGE – SIGNIFICANT WEIGHT FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH
More is clearly to come from Government. Process has been first in line and has seen instant positive action. Policy change from the Government and local authorities is also needed, and quickly. Every effort must be made to bring forward positive enabling policy to secure and deliver economic recovery.
Revised NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) policy on the significant weight that must be attached to economic recovery and growth in urban and rural areas has to be brought forward, and in turn, new supplementary planning guidance from Local Planning Authorities on what this means for applications locally. Rural Solutions is engaging with the Director of Planning at the MHCLG to push for this urgent policy review.