On 12th May 2020, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced the introduction of additional new guidance, regulations and measures to enable the English planning system to better respond to the needs of developers and the need for development to be encouraged during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The most recent changes include:
Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL): Regulations are to be introduced to temporarily allow small and medium sized developers with an annual turnover of less than £45 million to defer CIL payments to councils to assist with cash flow, while ensuring communities still receive funding towards local infrastructure in the longer term. The new regulations will temporarily disapply late payment interest and provide a discretion to return interest already charged where councils consider it appropriate to do so.
Publicity and consultation for planning applications: From Thursday 14 May councils have the flexibility to take reasonable alternative steps to publicise planning applications, listed building consent applications and environmental statements applications where they cannot discharge the specific requirements for site notices, neighbour notifications or newspaper publicity. To notify people who are likely to have an interest in the application and indicate where further information about it can be viewed online, councils are temporarily allowed to publicise planning applications electronically, such as through social media. The publicity must be proportionate to the scale and nature of the application.
Virtual planning committees: Temporary measures introduced on 2nd April provided the power for councils to hold virtual meetings. These regulations apply to all council meetings up to 7th May 2021. Councils are encouraged to take advantage of these powers to hold virtual planning committees rather than deferring committees. They should also consider using ‘urgency powers’ within their constitutions to give senior officers delegated authority to make decisions on planning applications.
Local Plans: The Government are keen to encourage Local Plans to progress through the system, which is seen as a vital means for supporting economic recovery. Consideration is being given to ways to address challenges faced by councils, including exploring options to achieve online inspection of documents as the default position and the Planning Inspectorate conducting virtual hearings and written submissions.
Neighbourhood Plans: No referendums can take place until after 6th May 2021 but in the interim, where a council has detailed its intention to send a neighbourhood plan to referendum, that plan can be given significant weight in decision-making, so far as the plan is material to the application. The general rule remains that examinations should be conducted by written representations. If an examiner considers that oral representations are necessary, these should wherever possible, take place using video conferencing or other suitable technologies. Public consultation can no longer be face-to-face; to demonstrate that all groups in the community have been sufficiently engaged more targeted consultation methods may be needed including by telephone or in writing. Copies of documents may be made available online and councils may be able to advise neighbourhood planning groups on suitable methods to provide communities with access to physical copies of documents.
Construction site working arrangements: New guidance will allow developers to agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local council, such as staggering builders’ arrival times and extending working hours. Plus, a ‘Safe Working Charter’ has been introduced to enable home builders to return to work safely.
In addition, the Government have issued a statement that site visits and the use of digital technology and virtual meetings should become the norm in planning casework. It has also published guidance on validation of applications, compulsory purchase and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects.
If you would like any more information on any of the above changes, please do not hesitate to contact us.