The latest Chief Planner’s letter to Chief Planning Officers (March) contains key messages for heads of planning authorities during the COVID-19 crisis.
Planning authorities are urged to “continue to provide the best service possible” and “prioritise decision making” particularly in support of the local economy. Councils are advised to take an innovative approach to overcoming logistical problems and are “encouraged… to explore every opportunity to use technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can go ahead“.
The government will enable legislation to allow councils’ committee meetings (including planning committees) to be held virtually for a temporary period.
The chief planner has emphasised it’s important for councils to prioritise these within the approval timeframe. The message is that only “exceptional circumstances” should such approval dates be agreed to be extended.
This puts pressure on authorities to refuse applications in the absence of agreement and will no doubt see a spike in appeals, adding to resource and financial burdens. The alternative is to approve, which reflects the mantra to be more flexible and pragmatic and prioritise the local economy. Will Councils take heed?
Reflecting the Written Ministerial Statement of 13 March 2020 carrying through with enforcement action should be considered very carefully especially in relation to “restrictions on food and other essential deliveries“. Councils are also asked to use their discretion in enforcing planning conditions which “hinder the effective response to COVID-19“.
Blake Morgan’s Planning Team are currently dealing with a number of enforcement matters that have been turned upside down in the last two weeks. The world is moving very quickly in response to COVID-19 and planning law is no exception in these extraordinary times. Keeping abreast of the changes could be critical to your business.
The message is overwhelmingly one of pragmatism and for planning authorities to stay functioning for businesses and the economy.
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