What does ‘lockdown’ mean for local planning?
Coronavirus is taking its toll on every industry, forcing us all to rethink our approach to our personal and working lives.
This is no different for the land and planning industry with landowners, developers and strategic land directors looking to keep our projects moving with business as usual as it can be in an unusual world.
Having worked for Melton Borough Council in 2008, when our office was destroyed by fire, I know first-hand how local authorities respond to emergencies: they implement emergency planning processes and business continuity plans. Resources are redeployed to meet the immediate priority needs of the public.
The current situation will see councils quite rightly focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities and trying to find a way to deliver services from the homes of their officers will be a competing priority.
What’s been the impact of coronavirus on planning so far?
In addition to the redistribution of staff support, home working and social distancing has caused a number of issues for local authorities and planning committees.
The Government’s Chief Planner has written to local authority Chief Planning Officers to call for pragmatism and practicality and a number of councils are doing sterling work to deliver their local planning authority business without seemingly missing a beat.
While many of the larger councils are agile, some are affected by a lack of technology and staff are unable to set up home working. A number of local planning authorities have signalled delays to local plans or phone calls and emails go unanswered. If we are fortunate enough to get an audience with our local authority planning teams, it is imperative that we make the most of the opportunity.
The typical age profile of committee members also makes a large number highly vulnerable to the virus and thus are self-isolating. Stories are emerging of planning committees being cancelled or run with the minimum number required to be quorate. For some councils the recent lockdown has also taken in-person meetings off the table too.
New legislation for virtual committee meetings is promised. This and a concerted push towards the technology for virtual officer meetings will be needed to recover and maintain progress. The early signs are that some councils have moved swiftly to meet this challenge and while nobody wishes to supplant the priority of looking after the vulnerable we might expect to see more local planning authorities tackling these challenges in the days and weeks to come.
What is the likely impact of coronavirus on development projects and planning applications?
In the immediate future we are likely to see local plan milestones pass without plans being published for consultation or committee decisions being made. For those projects at the planning application stage we are also likely to start seeing an increase in ‘extension of time’ requests as it becomes difficult for councils to meet their targets. Together with reduced contact from local planning authorities this might be an uncertain and frustrating time for planning projects.
What can I do to keep my planning proposal moving during UK lockdown?
The likelihood of long or protracted negotiations is slim. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that we have positive, efficient and effective relationships with local authority planning teams and do everything we can to support them towards delivering their service and streamline the application process.
- Attention to detail
Now is the time to get our projects in good health with clear reports that encourage straight forward discussion and processing. This could make the difference between a smooth and swift process and a major delay.
- Be clear on the red-lines
In a world where negotiation likely has fewer phases, it is important to be clear about the will and will nots. To-ing and fro-ing on negotiations is now a luxury projects can ill-afford.
- Make quick decisions
Time with the local authority planning teams will be at a greater premium than ever before. If there is a chance to agree a way forward we will need to make those decisions quickly and efficiently, preferably at the point the opportunity presents itself. A strategy of regroup and rethink might mean it is a while before we have an opportunity to meet with planners again and move projects forward.
We’re all in this together, and in these unprecedented times we must recognise and respect the challenges being faced by others in order to keep us all moving forward.
For legal planning advice contact the Marrons Planning team.