The Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020. This makes a number of changes relevant to planning. The Act postpones elections due in May 2020 for local councillors, mayors of local and combined authorities, police commissioners, the Mayor of London and London Assembly until May 2021. It also makes provision for Local Authorities to change the way in which they hold their meetings which came into force on the 4th April 2020: see legislation.gov.uk.
The Local Authorities and PCP Coronavirus Regulations 2020 provides guidance on the conduct of local authority meetings held before the 7 May 2021 and allows for meetings to be conducted using digital methods and virtual locations.
Pegasus Group been reviewing the working practices of Local Planning Authorities across England and Wales throughout the lockdown period to see how they respond to this new legislation.
In relation to Planning Appeals and Local Plan and other Examinations, when the Coronavirus restrictions were first introduced, the Planning Inspectorate issued an announcement on 24th March 2020 that all site visits would be put on hold and that Inquiries, Hearings and Local Plan Hearings would be postponed, with some S78 Inquiry and Hearing cases being converted to Written Representations, whilst pre-and post-inquiry procedures would continue.
On 16th April 2020, PINS provided an update on how it would be conducting appeals during the Coronavirus crisis, including an announcement about the introduction of pilot ‘virtual’ appeal hearings for a handful of selected cases – GOV.UK. Members of Pegasus Group and other planning experts have taken part in a virtual mock planning appeal exercise, exploring the practical and procedural implications of continuing work ‘remotely’ during the Covid-19 crisis, the feedback report from the participants can be found here. The first virtual hearing took place on the 11th May 2020 and decision issued on the 27th May 2020.
In the latest update from PINs issued on the 28th May 2020, PINs have announced that they are now planning to hold at least another 20 hearings and inquiries and an additional 15 hearings across four Nationally Significant Infrastructure projects in June 2020, see link to 28th May 2020 update here.
Since the 13th May 2020, appeal site visits restarted where the Inspector could visit the site safely under the current physical distancing guidelines and where the case required the Inspector to visit the site to progress the case. PINs latest update on the 28th May 2020 sets out that over 600 site visits were programmed for May 2020. PINs are currently trialling how some appeal can progress without a site visit, to date 20 appeal decisions have been issued following this process, with the discretion being with the appointed Inspector to decide whether to go down a ‘no site visit required’.
PINs anticipate that one Local Plan hearing will take place via phone conference and one full Local Plan examination to be conducted virtually in July 2020.
In relation to Development Management, ten weeks on from the change in legislation to allow virtual committees to take place we are still seeing a mixed response in take up from LPAs across England and Wales. The work Pegasus Group have been undertaking across the regions highlights that certain regions are more advanced in already having held virtual planning committee’s during April and May 2020 as reported is week’s edition of the Covid 19 – LPAs Self Contingencies Measures Report.
There are a now a significant number of LPAs across the UK where virtual planning committees have successfully taken place for a number of months with members determining a range of major planning applications, either being schemes that are Departures to Local Plan policies and those with multiple objections. Some LPAs/ Regions appear to be taking a more cautious approach reviewing their internal procedures and exploring the IT options for holding virtual committee meetings.
It is anticipated that the take up of virtual committees will continue to spread across the LPAs in England and Wales as Council’s set up their legal and IT systems to run virtual meetings and as examples of best practice are shared to give councillors/ members the confidence that they can continue to determine Major and controversial applications in this period.
In terms of work on Plan Making, there appears to be is a mixed response. Some LPAs are continuing to press ahead with policy work in line with their current timetables; others are reviewing their LDS’s; some are pausing work for the foreseeable and one of the London LPAs have decided not to undertake any future public consultation on new policy documents during this time.
What is clear is the eagerness of LPAs across the UK to embrace this current crisis with the front runners setting a fast pace of change made possible by the new legislation which is allows major developments and politically sensitive applications to be progressed. One Significant National Infrastructure Project which received planning approval at a virtual planning committee meeting on Friday 24th April 2020 was the approval of the HS2 Curzon Street Station, approved by Birmingham City Council. This development proposal is the first HS2 Phase 1 Station to achieve planning permission. Curzon Street Station is set to form an integral part of a major new transport interchange, bringing HS2, Moor Street Station, West Midlands Metro tram and new bus facilities as well as being a key component of the economic growth of the West Midlands Region.
Pegasus Group have been working across our offices to provide a schedule of LPAs current self-contingency measures that are in place in response to Covid-19. The attached document sets out the current working practices and procedures that have been adopted in response to Covid-19 as of 11th June 2020. This information will be constantly changing with LPAs updating their procedures alongside legislation. Pegasus Group have been providing regular updates in this respect to capture how the situation changes however moving forward if you have any future queries there are designated contacts in each of our offices as listed below who would be happy to help.
View our latest document for the latest updates on the virtual planning committees that have taken place in Local Planning Authorities across England and Wales here (dated 4th June 2020).
Click here to download our Covid-19 and LPAs Self Contingency Measures schedule (dated 11th June 2020).
For any further information please contact your regional contact below:
- East Midlands – Guy Longley and Amy Smith
- East of England – Nicky Parsons and Anas Makda
- London – Jim Tarzey and Beth Lambourne
- North East of England – Sandra Manson and Charlotte Connor
- North West of England – Neil Culkin, Seb Tibenham and Kate Lowe
- South East of England – Andy Meader, Mykena Mortimer-Davis, Rahel Hillier, Sarah Hamilton-Foyn and Adam Jones
- South West of England – Sarah Hamilton-Foyn, Adam Jones and Jonathan Coombs
- Wales (North) – Neil Culkin and Kate Lowe
- Wales (South) – Jonathan Coombs
- West Midlands – Chris May and Michelle Simpson-Gallego
- Yorkshire and Humber – Nigel Cussen