Covid-19 hasn’t stopped the planning system, but be prepared for challenges warns planning expert

15/05/2020

Whilst the planning system hasn’t ground to a halt, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected it in numerous ways and anyone with a project in mind should be prepared to navigate a series of challenges and plan for a potentially longer than normal timeline for the foreseeable future.

Mark Turner of FBC Manby Bowdler’s planning department has monitored legislative changes and the working practices of local planning departments and is advising clients to take a pragmatic approach to current and future projects. He comments:

“Whilst the new era of working from home has posed a series of challenges for councils’ normal working practices, the electronic submission and processing of planning applications is continuing and should mean that these are considered within normal timeframes. Councils are required to have processes in place to enable them to validate paper applications but delays should be expected.”

Applicants may be asked to erect site notices themselves to avoid Council Officers needing to travel and if this is the case, then they’ll need to provide evidence of having done so. Likewise, site visits to consider the details of applications may require an applicant to submit photographs or the Officer to utilise aerial shots or drone footage. This isn’t, however, without its challenges, as Mark explains:

“Reliance on photographs, aerial shots and drone footage instead of physical site visits could result in prejudice arising for both the applicants and objectors given that the level of detail a site inspection provides will be difficult to achieve.

“Similarly, when it comes to making a decision on an application there is currently a mix of approaches being taken. Many councils are simply increasing the numbers of applications being decided by individual case officers, to avoid the difficulties of convening Planning Committees. Some councils, however, are making moves to hold ‘virtual’ committee meetings and temporary legislation has been introduced to enable this. Take-up of this approach is increasing but remains inconsistent between authorities and this is something that applicants must be prepared for.”

The current lock-down may encourage some applicants to press ahead with work before the necessary levels of approval have been granted but with councils continuing to deal with enforcement issues, this is not advisable. Mark concludes:

“Whilst it may feel like many normal rules no longer apply, it is important to deal with Enforcement Notices and Planning Contravention Notices swiftly as delays could ultimately lead to prosecution.

“Of course, for the majority of applicants this won’t be an issue, but the current circumstances could mean that where permission has already been granted, expiry dates are fast approaching without work having started. In these instances, consideration needs to be made to Reserved Matters Approvals and the discharge of pre-commencement conditions. These are complex areas of law where advice is best provided on a case by case basis.

“Indeed, as we continue to experience entirely new approaches to everyday occurrences, any applicant with a project in mind who is questioning the appropriate ways of dealing with applications, approvals, refusals, the engagement of contractors or anything else in-between, are urged to seek expert advice rather than pay the price at a later date.”

If you require further advice on any planning matters, please contact Mark using the details below.

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