26th March 2020
Local authorities have been urged by the Government to act innovatively and with resilience in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, experts in the industry still have fears that the planning system will become backlogged. In response, the Coronavirus Act 2020 was introduced on 25 March 2020.
What does it mean for the planning system?
To keep the planning system moving, the emergency legislation will enable decisions by virtual planning committees to be temporarily lawful.
Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations which can relax the existing requirement for council meetings to be held in person. Once the secondary legislation is published by the Secretary of State, local authorities will be able to hold meetings and make committee decisions remotely, without councillors needing to be physically present in the same room.
The secondary legislation is expected to be introduced towards the start of next week.
This is a very encouraging development in that it’s a clear message to local authorities to continue with their statutory functions.
Practically speaking, the act will facilitate the continued flow of decision making by local authorities and counteract the backlog of applications that has been building up. That said, there will certainly be a transition period for planning authorities whilst they shift to new procedures and embrace video-conferencing technology.
Don’t be discouraged
Alongside the introduction of the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government has formally encouraged local authorities to use their powers to delegate committee decisions to officers where suitable.
Delegation will enable some matters to be decided swiftly and will free up the committees who will be acting remotely, once the secondary legislation under the Coronavirus Act is introduced. Some local authorities are adopting delegation systems where delegated decisions are made by officers who take into consideration the views of other committee members.
Despite the possibility of delays, you should not be discouraged from lodging applications. If you have applications pending, we advise you to be proactive in communicating with the local authority to fully understand the position of your application.
Advice and assistance
Should you require any advice or assistance with your planning related matters, do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of Thrings’ Planning team.