Log in | Register

Covid-19: Planning profession impact - rolling news

Words: Laura Edgar
Covid-19 / iStock-1203426591

The Planner team is keeping track of the coronavirus (Covid-19) related policy changes and pledges as they arise. Below you can find links to our coverage and sources you might find useful. We will be updating this resource regularly, so please consider bookmarking this page.


COP26 postponed due to Covid-19    

The COP26 UN climate change crisis has been postponed until 2021 due to the outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19).

It was due to take place in Glasgow this November.

The decision has been made by representatives of the COP Buereau of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), alongside the UK and its Italian partners.

The dates for the conference in 2021 will be set out in due course, according to a government statement. It will be still be hosted in Glasgow by the UK, in partnership with Italy.

Manchester chief exec to decide planning applications

The chief executive of Manchester City Council has been delegated power to decide planning applications during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. 

Joanne Roney will also make decisions on listed building consent and tree preservation order applications.

According to a Council Business Continuity Arrangements document on the council website, the delegated authority is to be “exercised in consultation with the director of planning, building control and licensing and with the chair and deputy chair of the committee when both are available, and either if only one is available”.


West Sussex council requests a pause in progress of local plan

Horsham District Council has asked the government to pause in the process of the area’s local plan amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) required local plans to be reviewed and updated every five years. 

Horsham’s current adopted plan will be out of date in November, with its housing requirement set to increase from 800 homes a year to 965 homes. 

“In the very changed circumstances we find ourselves in, I think it is vital to take the action of trying to get this local Plan process delayed. Councillor Ray Dawe, leader of the council, has written to the secretary of state setting out the potential impacts of Covid -19 on the council and on our local plan preparation, and is requesting that the requirements for local plan timetable are reviewed,” said Claire Vickers, Horsham District Council cabinet member for planning and development.

James introduces emergency permitted development rights to help NHS

Welsh housing minister Julie James has introduced emergency temporary permitted development rights to allow local authorities to change the use of buildings without planning permission during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. 

The Welsh Government wants local authorities to be able to use leisure centres as temporary hospitals if needed, “to prevent or control an emergency”. 

The move is in support of the NHS and the intent is to increase hospital capacity across the country.


Covid-19: Officers at Welsh council to decide all applications

Pembrokeshire County Council has approved measures triggered by the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak that mean officers will be able to decide planning issues. This includes all planning applications normally considered by the planning committee.

Although the planning committee will not be involved, a protocol accompanying this radical move allows for the cabinet member with responsibility for planning, as well as the chair and vice-chair of the planning committee, to see and comment on the case officer’s report and any proposed conditions or terms.

There will be a 72-hour period for these members to consider, comment and if necessary, object to what is proposed. In some circumstances the decision could be referred to the council’s urgency committee.

The new arrangements will be in place for two months and will cease when the planning committee is able to reconvene as usual or is able to meet remotely.  

Edinburgh contractors asked to follow national guidance

The City of Edinburgh Council has asked contractors delivering non-essential council-led construction to follow the Scottish Government’s guidance.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised that all construction projects should stop during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown, unless they are delivering essential buildings, such as hospitals.

The council has set out a general position in relation to its acceptance of delays to provide clarity and to protect the health and wellbeing of all those who live and work here.

Council issues call for help to house homeless

Lichfield District Council has called for second home owners, hoteliers, B&Bs, Airbnb owners and student housing providers to offer accommodation to house the district’s homeless during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

The council is seeking properties to house rough sleepers and homeless people as it is “vital” to get them into suitable accommodation so they can self-isolate.

Burnham's charity donates £100k to homelessness

The Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity has granted an emergency £100,000 to the city-region’s homelessness charitable sector. 

Alongside this, it has launched an urgent appeal calling on big business and individuals to donate funds to support voluntary, community and social enterprises during coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

Donations will form the basis of packages of goods to be delivered to those homeless people currently living in hotel accommodation.

(Subscription) Inside Housing reports: Northern Ireland social landlords promise to halt evictions during coronavirus crisis

Communities minister Deirdre Hargey announced that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and all the region’s housing associations have reached the agreement with the Department for Communities (DfC).

She said: “This is a worrying time for everyone and I am very aware that there is an increased level of anxiety in our community.

“The last thing anyone needs right now is to add the security of their home to those worries.”

Sharma writes to construction industry (pdf)

Business secretary Alok Sharma has written to the construction sector to thank it for its work "building temporary hospital wards, installing complex and life-saving oxygen systems, constructing the infrastructure that society needs to function [and] ensuring that people have safe and healthy homesto live in".

He notes that  the industry has worked to develop Site Operating Procedures (SOP), which have been published by the Construction Leadership Council. "These align with the latest guidance from Public Health England. As this health guidance updates, the SOP will reflect any changes," he says.  


Support package for self-employed works welcomed by RTPI

The RTPI has welcomed chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, but wants the government to bring forward the help earlier.

Chief executive Victoria Hills said the package of support would be a “lifeline” for many self-employed planners during the national lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).

Network Rail: Key railway workers enable movement of 370,000 tonnes of food and medicine in a week

Last week key workers from Network Rail enabled more than 370,000 tonnes of freight to be moved between west London and Cornwall, as well as across Wales to support the economy, the NHS, petrol at the pumps and food in shops.

Network Rail teams have put steps in place to ensure key workers can get to their critical jobs and to move thousands of tonnes of vital supplies by freight, despite a reduced passenger timetable.

(Subscription) Inside Housing reports: Government guidance states cladding remediation work can continue

Cladding remediation work remains “critical to public safety” and can continue during the coronavirus outbreak, government guidance has said. 

It also confirmed that those operating waking watches would be considered “essential workers” and continue to be allowed to travel to and from work during the lockdown.

On remediation work, the guidance states that construction sites have not been asked to close and that work could continue if done safely. The guidance said it was therefore “possible” for remediation work to continue.


Opinion: How is the coronavirus epidemic affecting town planning?

What are the impacts of coronavirus on planning and the planning system - now and in the future? Ben Stansfield, Nigel Hewitson and Richard Thurling offer their thoughts.

"The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has already had unprecedented effects for society. Advice from government regarding social distancing, coupled with many people now working from home has turned the normal day-to-day business of all sectors upside-down. These effects will be felt all the more acutely now that 'lockdown' measures are coming into effect.

"[In this blog], we consider some immediate issues for the planning world and then propose further discussion points looking at how some of the longer-term impacts may play out."

Scottish appeals directorate looks to Skype as traditional hearings ditched

Scotland’s Directorate of Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) has insisted that its local development plan and appeals casework will continue, albeit that written representations will become the norm during the coronavirus outbreak.

It also will make use of technology such as Skype to facilitate hearings and inquiries. But all planned site visits are postponed with immediate effect.

The DPEA offices in Falkirk are now closed until further notice. Email communication remains in place.

Murphy announces emergency planning measures

Ireland's local government and planning minister Eoghan Murphy has announced a package of planning-related measures triggered by the coronavirus emergency.

These initiatives would make it much easier to put up temporary health facilities and remove the need for change of use permission for restaurants that want to operate as takeaways.

The minister has also received assurances from local authorities that they will not enforce conditions that limit opening hours and delivery times for shops and pharmacies in order to support the provision of food, medicines and other essential supplies.

In addition, various statutory periods involved with planning and building control legislation would be paused as necessary.

Appeals regime takes a hit in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s planning appeals system has been dealt a blow as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The offices of the Planning Appeals Commission are now closed.

All arrangements for submission of evidence and proceedings are suspended. 

“Once our offices are open [again] we will be in contact to make alternative arrangements,”  the organisation has told all those affected.

All appeals will be dealt with by written representation for the foreseeable future. All accompanied site visits have been cancelled.

Despite this hiatus the statutory time limits for submission of appeals remains unchanged.

UK Government: Letter from minister to local authorities

Minister for local government and homelessness Luke Hall has written to all local authorities in England to update them on plans to protect rough sleepers during the Covid-19 pandemic. 


RTPI: Tell us your views on the Covid-19 response

The RTPI wants to hear from its members about what they think about the UK Government’s response to the coronavirus (Covid-19).

Chief executive Victoria Hills said: “In these unprecedented times, we would urge all our members, whether working in the public or private sector, employed or self-employed, active or retired, to take part in this survey. 

“Members’ responses will form a vital part of the RTPI’s discussions in the coming weeks and months with not only the UK Parliament, but also the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Governments too.”

Coronavirus Act allows virtual planning committee meetings

Planning committee meetings will be able to be held virtually during the restrictions that have been implemented to stem the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) under emergency legislation.

This act makes provisions for “persons to attend, speak at, vote in, or otherwise participate in, local authority meetings without all of the persons, or without any of the persons, being together in the same place”.

The regulation is for meetings required to be held before 7 May 2021.

Hills suggests reducing working hours to help mental health

RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills has introduced measures at the institute for staff to reduce their working hours by 30 per cent to help safeguard their mental health as they work from home during the coronavirus lockdown.

The institute will review the situation after the Easter break.

Leeds reduces planning services

Leeds City Council has announced that its planning and sustainable development service will continue as a reduced service during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.

Where possible, existing planning applications or planning queries are being progressed.

New or more recent applications though, may be subject to delay until the circumstances change because it is not possible to publicise them either by placing notices at locations or sending letters of notifications to residents.


Covid-19: Quartermain outlines government support for planning authorities in final letter as chief planner

England’s chief planner Steve Quartermain has encouraged local planning authorities to use technology to continue their service, and ensure discussions and consultations can go ahead during the outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19).

Regarding the preparation of local plans, Quartermain encouraged planning authorities to continue this work as much as possible, and to “work proactively with their community and other stakeholders to progress plans, even if some adjustments to timetables are necessary”.

Facilitate Magazine: ExCel undergoes refit to become hospital to fight coronavirus

The ExCeL London Centre is being refitted to take hundreds of beds with oxygen and ventilators, NHS England has announced.

The new NHS Nightingale Hospital will open next week to provide support for thousands of patients with coronavirus. 

It will be based at the ExCeL conference centre in East London and will initially provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen. The capacity will then continue to increase, potentially up to several thousand beds, should it be required.

Self-employed need more support during coronavirus crisis, says RTPI

RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills has urged the government to expedite plans to support self-employed workers in the UK through the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

Writing to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Hills explained that many of the institute’s self-employed members have already been impacted by Covid-19.

RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence to go ahead – on YouTube

The RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence are to take place as scheduled on 30 April – but as an exclusively online event. 

The winners are to be announced during an online ceremony that RTPI members can watch as-live once they have subscribed to the institute’s own YouTube channel.

In the RTPI’s latest response to the coronavirus crisis, the ceremony will now take place as a YouTube ‘Premiere’, broadcast at 13:00pm BST on 30 April. Members logged in to the RTPI’s channel will be able to comment on proceedings as they transpire. A link to the specific page for the ceremony will be shared soon.

PINS update

The Planning Inspectorate has issued a further update to its advice for the appeals service during the outbreak of Covid-19. 

It can be found here on the UK Government website.

BBC News reports: Pressure to halt construction work grows

The government is facing growing pressure to stop non-essential construction work to help tackle the spread of coronavirus in the UK.

On Tuesday (24 March), health secretary Matt Hancock said those who cannot do their jobs from home should go to work to "keep the country running".

Construction work can continue so long as people are 2m (6.5ft) apart, Hancock said.

But critics said public health should be prioritised over the economy.


PINS suspends site visits

Following the announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johson that everyone but key workers must stay at home, the Planning Institute has suspended site visits until further notice.

Graham Stallwood, director of operations, said "in England we have been undertaking small-scale tests over the last week, using technology to progress hearings, enquiries and examinations. There are still challenges to overcome, particualry around involving residents, communities and other interested parties, making sure those decisions are open, fair and impartial."

PINS is working with industry stakeholders to work through these challenges. Stallwood is "confident" that in the coming weeks the trial will able to be rolled out and made more widely available.

Pubs and restaurants can operate as food takeaways

The legislation for the relaxation of on planning regulations in England has been laid and was made official on 24 March. The temporary permitted development right will end on 23 March 2021.

Conditions for the change of use include that the developer must notify the local planning authority if the building and any land within its curtilage is being used, or will be used, for the provision of takeaway food at any time during the relevant period.

The legislation can be read here.

Covid-19: RTPI asks PM for stop-gap measures to support planning sector

The RTPI has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to request the introduction of temporary measures to support the planning sector during the Covid-19 crisis.

The requests come in an open letter – also signed by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) – in which the three organisations offer help to the government “in this time of national emergency”.

The bodies speak of their “vital contribution to the global success of the UK’s built environment”, noting that their members “have access to a wide range of buildings that could be used by the NHS or other key workers and are keen to meet with senior officials to discuss how they could make a difference”.

RTPI issues coronavirus update

RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills said the institute has extended the suspension of all events and travel until 31 August amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

Anyone who is booked on an event during this period will receive information on whether it is to be cancelled, postponed or held in a virtual capacity.


Scotland relaxes enforcement rules to aid takeaway services during coronavirus outbreak

Scotland’s chief planner and planning minister have written to local authorities about the relaxation of enforcement regarding pubs and restaurants offering takeaway services during the outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19).

Currently, many of the country’s pubs do not have planning permission to operate as takeaway businesses, but both John McNairney and Kevin Stewart believe that, given the public health challenge facing Scotland, “it is vital that support is given to these businesses to allow them to maximise opportunities to maintain a revenue stream and avoid potential closure and loss of small businesses”.

McNairney and Stewart have also written to local authorities about planning restrictions that confine deliveries from lorries and other delivery vehicles to within set hours.

The letter makes it clear that the Scottish Government wants planning authorities to take a “positive approach to their engagement with food retailers and distributors, as well as the freight industry, to ensure planning controls are not a hard barrier to food delivery” during the Covid-19 outbreak.


Planning lawyers propose ‘virtual planning inquiries’ to be run from home during coronavirus restrictions

A group of planning lawyers from two leading chambers has sent a proposal to the Planning Inspectorate, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) for a ‘protocol’ that would keep the planning system functioning during ‘exceptionally difficult and worrying times’.

The “dedicated team” from Kings Chambers and No.5 Barristers’ Chambers is recommending that essential legal processes such that planning appeals and examinations in public can continue using digital tools.

In particular the proposal, also sent to the Planning and Environment Bar Association, advocates ‘the Virtual Planning Inquiry’ using “video conferencing and document sharing to consider, hear and test evidence in an effective way without compromising public involvement and fairness”.

Planners ready to support communities and businesses amid coronavirus outbreak

RTPI president Sue Manns has urged planners to remain calm and to continue to follow government advice as the UK works to bring the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) under control.

Manns stressed the importance of supporting initiatives, such as the relaxation of rules on deliveries. 

The RTPI has considered all of the announcements in recent days and has now called on planners to identify what more the government could be doing to help to support the sector.

Mallon calls for light-touch delivery planning regime 

Northern Ireland's infrastructure and planning minister Nichola Mallon has written to local councils making it clear they should temporarily hold back on any planning enforcement action that could result in restrictions on deliveries of food, sanitary and other essential products, including medicines. 

This move was triggered by the Northern Ireland Executive’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.


Government acts to protect renters and rough sleepers during coronavirus outbreak 

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has announced that during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak renters and landlords will be protected from losing their homes and unmanageable debts. He has also committed funds to protect those who are sleeping rough.

The government says emergency legislation forbidding landlords in England to evict tenants for at least a three-month period is an “urgent priority”. This will protect both social and private renters.

As the virus may also put pressure on landlords, the government’s plan for the three-month mortgage payment holiday announced earlier this week (external link) will be extended to landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties because of Covid-19.

Jenrick has also committed £3.2 million in emergency funding to help those who sleep rough or who are at risk of homelessness to self-isolate during the spread of Covid-19.

The funding will be available to all local authorities in England. It will reimburse them for the cost of providing accommodation and services to those sleeping on the streets to self-isolate.

This funding is in addition to the £492 million committed for 2020 to 202 to support the government’s aim to end rough sleeping during this Parliament, which is part of the £643 million intended to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next four years.

High Streets Task Force provides update on coronavirus outbreak

The High Streets Task Force has issued an update regarding its pilot programme amid the continuing Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.

The pilot programme began working with 14 towns in February this year, while seven diagnostic tests have been held in the past few weeks, including meetings with local authority leaders and their partners to discuss high street performance and plans for the future.

Each of these towns will receive a report on the visit, as well as the next steps.

However, given the outbreak of Covid-19 and the resulting guidance issued by the government, the remaining seven pilot visits will not take place. They have been postponed until social distancing is discontinued and there are no longer restrictions on movement.


Pubs to operate as food takeaways under government response to coronavirus

The government has announced that planning regulations in England will be relaxed so that pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

Under current regulations, planning permission is required for businesses to carry out this change.

The limited permitted development right will see a temporary change of use of an A4 drinking establishment (pub) and an A3 establishment (restaurant and cafés) to a hot food takeaway for up to 12 months.

PINS issues Covid-19 advice

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has issued guidance about site visits, hearings, inquiries and events in England and Wales amid the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) and the government’s advice on social distancing and staying at home.

Full and up-to-date details of the advice issued by PINS can be found here. PINS last updated the advice on 24 March.


Coronavirus outbreak prompts wholesale planning response

Local authorities must urgently ensure that planning controls are not a barrier to food delivery to retailers by distributors and the freight industry amid the disruption caused by the coronavirus.

In a written ministerial statement, communities secretary Robert Jenrick told planning authorities not to carry out enforcement action that would “result in unnecessarily restricting deliveries of food and other essential deliveries during this period”.

Image credit | iStock | Chris McAndrew | All credits for small images appear on the original The Planner article