The planning system in Wales has been diverging from its English roots for some time. Now, in an attempt to respond to the deepest national crisis for many a year, the Welsh Government has proposed making changes that will sharpen the ability of authorities to deal with, and process, applications and enquiries.
At a time of great uncertainty for the property industry, developers, owners of land and proponents of much needed schemes must be very concerned as to how matters can be brought forward and progressed, whilst the country and the resources of public servants are stretched.
The Welsh Government is considering temporary amendments to the Town and County Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Wales) Order 2012 (“DMPWO”) in response to the effects of COVID-19.
SO WHAT IS DUE TO CHANGE?
- Posting site notices and making information available for inspection at a location in the vicinity of the development will no longer be required. This contrasts with reports we are hearing in relation to notification procedures for planning related diversion and stopping up procedures where some authorities are stating the orders cannot be progressed in the absence of notices being posted. In effect those authorities are worried no genuine opportunity is given for representations to be made by users who may be affected but are currently not using those rights of way. Consequently, the risk of judicial challenge is heightened.
- All pre-application publicity and consultation is to be undertaken online where the development cannot be delayed until after COVID-19 lockdown, this may be done via online media.
CURRENT APPLICATIONS AND RESPONSE TO COVID-19
- The local planning authorities are prioritising those applications directly relating to responding to COVID-19 (this includes some relating to health facilities, food supplies, telecommunications and energy networks). These applications still require site visits and officers will observe the social distancing guidelines and use appropriate personal protective equipment.
- The Welsh Government are considering providing additional permitted development rights for local authorities to undertake temporary development (for health emergency purposes), which means that no application will be required. Please see our update here.
- Those applications not directly relating to responding to COVID-19 are likely to be delayed, however the Welsh Government have indicated their intention to undertake remote site visits using Google Street View and satellite imagery where possible. We have commented on a number of occasions on the benefits and risks of using this type of technology.
- Timescales provided by the DMPWO will not be amended, but there may be a temporary removal of the provision allowing a refund of the application fee where the timescale is not met.
- A delay in enforcement complaints is anticipated. Breaches of planning control, which would require a stop notice to be issued will be prioritised.
WILL THE NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT FRAMEWORK (NDF) BE DELAYED?
The NDF is due to be published in September 2020. The next stage of the statutory preparation process is a 60 day consideration by the Senedd – a delay in this is anticipated, but updates will be available here.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO MINIMISE THE IMPACT ON YOUR PLANNING APPLICATION IN WALES?
- Ensure that all applications are made online via Planning Applications Wales. Postal applications are unlikely to be processed for some considerable time.
- Try to agree extensions of time. In the absence of any response from an overstretched authority unilaterally confirming an extension with reasonable end date may well keep an application on track.
- However, you may still appeal to the Welsh Government on the grounds of non-determination should the original or extended timescales not be met.
If you have any queries regarding temporary changes to planning in Wales, please get in touch with one of our experts.
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