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Covid-19: Planning profession impact - rolling news

Words: Laura Edgar
Covid-19 / iStock-1203426591

The Planner 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.


News analysis: How sites visits are being conducted during Covid-19

Visiting potential sites for development is one of the final steps in processing a planning application, so how has coronavirus (Covid-19) affected the way building control professionals go about ensuring works comply with building regulations?

What happened to planning officer site visits in the wake of the government enforced a lockdown to stem the spread of the virus on 23 March? The Planner spoke to Trafford Council, Lichfield District Council, Plymouth City Council, the RTPI and LABC to find out.

Northern Irish councils call for funding boost to aid stricken high streets

Councils across Northern Ireland are urging the Executive to provide more financial support to help high streets, hospitality organisations and the cultural sector to get back to business. 

The issue was discussed this week by Stormont’s Economy Committee, which took joint evidence from the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives NI (SOLACE).

Glasgow Herald reports: Finnieston ‘glass house’ roof revealed

Proposals have surfaced for the construction of a £1 million ‘glass house’ over a section of Argyle Street at Finnieston in Glasgow’s West End, which would allow adjacent bars and restaurants to re-open under social distancing measures. 

Irish Government: Planning regime reverts to normal

The planning regime is getting back to normal this week  with pre-Covoid-19  public participation timelines back in force and An Bord Pleanála's office at 64 Marlborough Street, Dublin 1 reverting to full public opening hours again, 9.15am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday. 


'Unprecedented' plans to house rough sleepers outlined

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has set out plans to provide long-term homes for those sleeping rough in

England who have been taken off the streets during the coronvirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The plans will be backed by £433 million of government funding, with £160 million going towards delivering 3,300 homes over the next 12 months. 


Welsh Government: £22m boost for transport projects

Welsh transport minister Ken Skates has announced £22.6 million will be allocated to 21 projects across 15 local authorities to enable improvement in economic activity, improve access to employment, encourage healthier travel modes and connect communities.

He said: "These grants stand as a substantial investment to improve local public transport provision and support local economic growth as we work to aid the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic."

New Ross Standard reports: South East Greenway stays on track

The 24-kilometre South East Greenway connecting New Ross with Waterford is "on track" to be completed in late 2021, one of only a handful of similar projects not to have been delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Irish Times reports: Cork pedestrianization progress

Cork is pressing ahead with proposals to pedestrianize many of its streets and provide additional cycling facilities as part of the  city’s strategy aimed at facilitating social distancing as the Republic’s second biggest city  emerges from the Covid-19 lock-down. 

Northern Ireland Executive: Pedestrianisation initiatives planned for Belfast, Derry and Newry

The first in a wave of planned pedestrianisation initiatives to support the province’s recovery from Covoid-19 has been announced by the Department for Infrastructure, with schemes trialled in Belfast and Derry and shortly expected in Newry. The measures are designed to be low-cost, experimental and will target changes in travel to boost walking and cycling and easing pressure on public transport.

Eastern Daily Press reports: Boreas windfarm potentially delayed by five months

A major windfarm development planned off the Norfolk coast has been told it may be delayed by up to five months. The Planning Inspectorate said  that the examination of the plan would take longer than expected given the coronavirus outbreak.


Higher emergency grants offered to heritage sector

The National Lottery Heritage Fund is welcoming applications for larger grants to cover emergency costs during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.  

The organisation wants past and current recipients to apply for grants between £50,000 and £250,000. This is in addition to the £3,000 to £50,000 grants that were launched in mid-April.

These new grants are available to cover essential costs for up to four months and to begin the work needed for long-term re-emergence from the crisis.


Covid-19 triggers changes for pre-application consultation on major Welsh developments

New regulations came into force in Wales this week in respect of pre-application consultation for major development as well as Developments of National Significance.

The amendment order effectively restarts the pre-application consultation process, removing the barriers preventing successful completion, while introducing safeguards to guarantee that the revised process is as inclusive as possible.

The requirement to make information available for inspection at a location in the vicinity of the proposed development has been temporarily withdrawn for the duration of the emergency, which currently is expected to last until 18 September.

Instead developers must make all the information available on a website and send hard copies of documents to any person who requests it.

Policy brought in to protect Hertsmere employment sites

An article 4 direction has come into force to protect some of Hertsmere’s major employment sites, a measure that could help the borough to recover economically from the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.

Developers must now seek planning permission to convert any buildings into housing across 13 significant employment sites in Borehamwood, Elstree, Potters Bar, Bushey, Radlett and Shenley.

Before now, permitted development rights meant offices, light industrial and storage or distribution buildings could be converted into housing without applying for permission to the council.

Hertsmere Borough Council agreed the article 4 direction at an executive meeting more than a year ago, and then held a period of public consultation on the planning policy changes.

Dr Harvey Cohen, a councillor in the borough, said: “Given the current coronavirus crisis, we felt it was important that these new article 4 directions should now come into effect. “It’s our ongoing aim that local planning rules safeguard businesses and jobs, but it’s especially important now to protect our commercial heartlands, as they will be vital for Hertsmere’s economic bounce-back following lockdown."

UK Government: Future Fund launches today

The government’s £500 million Future Fund has opened for applications today (20 May) with innovative and high-growth British businesses able to secure investment to help them through the Coronavirus outbreak.


New railways and roads needed to help Northern Powerhouse recover

Funding major transport and connectivity infrastructure improvements across the north of England can help the region – and the UK – to recover from coronavirus (Covid-19) and level up the country.

These are two of five proposals set out by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership that it believes will help the government to rebalance the economy. 


Sturgeon asked to outline housebuilding recommencement

Homes for Scotland has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to request a phased return to work to enable the country’s housebuilders to put the ‘finishing touches to around 6,000 largely completed homes’.

The homes nearing completion are worth in excess of £1 billion to the economy, said the trade representative body for Scotland’s homebuilders. 

In a letter to Sturgeon, Homes for Scotland says the industry has addressed the issues relating to the safe operation of construction sites, as well as sales offices.

UK Government: £35 million investment to protect critical freight routes

The UK Government has announced a £35 million into "vital" freight routes into, out of and around the UK to ensure they continue to run smoothly and critical goods, such as food and medical supplies, can move freely.

The government has signed agreements with six operators to provide up to £35 million to help ensure there is enough freight capacity to prevent disruption to the flow of goods.

The decision has been made to protect 16 of the most important routes covering the Channel, the Short Strait, the North Sea and routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland which were previously at risk of closure due to a drop in demand as a result of coronavirus. They will now be designated as Public Service Obligation routes for a period of up to nine weeks.

Written statement: Grant Shapps

In a written ministerial statement, transport secretary Grant Shapps outlines the funding package given to Transport for London (TfL). 


NPF4 should be a route map for 'a different Scotland' after Covid-19 pandemic, says RTPI Scotland

RTPI Scotland has formally responded to the Scottish Government’s call for ideas on its new National Planning Framework (NPF4), setting out 10 ‘Big Ideas’ to help guide its format, shape and content.

The institute says the forthcoming NPF4 should include “a long-term vision to promote active and sustainable travel, prioritise climate action and champion decision-making to promote the wellbeing of future generations”.

A need exists to agree on what constitutes a new normal and on the steps required to achieve it, said RTPI Scotland convenor Irene Beautyman.

PINS to start visiting sites

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) will begin visiting sites again now the government has signalled it can in a written ministerial statement following the easing of lockdown restrictions amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Earlier this week, housing secretary Robert Jenrick wrote: “Where site visits are required or necessary, they should be undertaken in line with the government’s guidance on social distancing and safety requirements.

“The Planning Inspectorate will be restarting site visits from mid-May. The government supports the inspectorate’s determination to facilitate site visits. It will expect inspectors to use their judgement in deciding if a site visit is necessary or whether alternative approaches are acceptable, taking account of the particular circumstances.”

Welsh Government: Ministers call for Covoid-19 transport initiatives

The Welsh Government has urged local authorities to submit proposals to transform Wales’s transport system with measures such as bus lanes, park-and-ride facilities, temporary cycle lanes, pavement widening and speed restrictions, all of which  would improve the conditions for sustainable and active travel during the Covoid-19 emergency.

The Irish Times reports: College Green moves

Dublin’s College Green is set to be pedestrianised – and cars restricted throughout much of the city after 11a.m. – under plans to reopen the city centre as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. Under these moves cafes and restaurants would be allowed put more tables and chairs outdoors

Northern Ireland Executive: Walking and cycling czar lined up

Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has announced a new walking and cycling ’czar’ who will focus on transforming communities and developing creative solutions during and post Covid-19 including “identifying and creating ‘quiet streets’ where pedestrians, cyclists and play have priority and motor vehicles are guests.”  


RTPI welcomes MHCLG guidance but is concerned about permission expiry

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) latest planning measures to keep the English system moving during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic have been welcomed by the RTPI, but the institute remains concerned that expiring planning permissions have not been addressed.

Victoria Hills, chief executive of the RTPI, said the measures were “positive and pragmatic” but she wants to see MHCLG issue guidance on site visits as well address the need for extended planning permissions.

“An RTPI survey conducted at the beginning of lockdown revealed that the majority of our members were overwhelmingly concerned with ensuring planning continues to deliver during the pandemic, with the majority supporting the use of digital hearings, inquiries and local review bodies and plan examinations. So, on that basis, we welcome the government’s latest announcements which will ensure this.

“However, we remain concerned that the issue of planning permissions due to expire during the lockdown has not yet been addressed. We have repeatedly called for this to be urgently addressed and repeat that call now. Our members have also said they require further guidance on site visits.”

This story alos includes reaction from the National Federation of Builders; the Federation of Master Builders; and Irwin Mitchell.

Jenrick updates the country on construction and planning

Giving the daily government briefing on Covid-19 yesterday (13 May), housing secretary Robert Jenrick spoke about the measures the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCG) has put in place to get the construction industry back on site and enable the planning system to continue functioning in England.

Application submissions fall in England and Wales

Data shows that planning applications of all types fell on average by 3.5 per cent in March and 18.5 per cent in April in England and Wales.

This is one of the key findings in the Planning Portal’s first Planning Market Insight Report.

Planning Portal said the restrictions placed on personal movement and businesses to stem the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) have had a “significant impact” on the planning and construction industries. 


MHCLG update Covid-19 guidance for planning in England

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has issued updated guidance to ensure that the planning system in England can ‘play its full part’ in the national and local economic recovery to come after the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The advice follows stakeholder feedback the ministry has received since the last chief planner’s newsletter, published on 23 March.

Current public health guidelines have had a “profound impact” on how local planning authorities operate, the ministry acknowledged.

“We understand the pressure that authorities are under, and the importance of practical measures which can ease the impact as well as support the wider efforts to keep the country running. It is important to keep the planning system moving as much as we can, so that it is able to play its full part in the economic recovery to come, at both national and local levels.”

Guidance has been provided on CIL, determination scales, publicity and consultation, and local plans. 

Jenrick sets out guidance for construction

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has announced several measures to get England building following a period of lockdown and inactivity on construction sites. 

Builders will be able to agree more flexible working hours with local councils. This includes staggering worker arrival times to ease pressure on public transport.

Scottish planners fear ‘inevitable’ fall in application fees

Scotland’s top local authority planners have warned that the Covid-19 emergency is threatening planning services because fewer applications will inevitably mean less of the fee income on which planning authorities rely.

That is the worrying prognosis voiced in the latest blog from the Heads of Planning Scotland (HOPS) executive.

HOPS will carry out a survey next month to track application numbers and the income for local authorities.

It warns: “As the number of applications will inevitably decrease over the next few months, there will be a knock-on effect in fee income.

"Planning authorities rely on fee income to function so this combined with the postponement of the expected fee increase in June means there may be longer-term effects on the system.

“The HOPS position remains that the planning system needs to be appropriately resourced to function for all parties.” 


West Midlands outlines priorities for Covid-19 recovery

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has outlined 10 priorities for the region's economic recovery after the coronavirus (Covid-19). 

Political and business leaders have endorsed the 10 priorities, upon which the West Midlands will draw up its own recovery plan.

The task force comprises experts from across the region’s public, private and academic sectors. The plan will aim to build a better, greener and more inclusive economy.

Facilitate Magazine reports: Government publishes new safet guidance for workplace

Employers should redesign workspaces to maintain two-metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits or changing seating layouts in break rooms.

The changes form part of the ‘Covid-19 secure’ guidelines published by the government yesterday (11 May).

The guidelines cover eight workplace settings including construction, offices and contact centres, factories, plants and warehouses and shops.

UK Government: Guidance published to ensure transport network is safe for those who need to use it

Guidance has been published by the UK Government on how passengers should make journeys safely, following the publication of the government’s roadmap and strategy for the next phase of the pandemic. 

Even as public transport begins to revert to a full service, the two-metre social distancing rule would only leave effective capacity for one in 10 passengers on many parts of the network.

The advice sets out that if people who cannot work from home and have to travel for work, they should first consider alternatives to public transport. It urges people to consider cycling, walking or driving to help ensure there is enough capacity for those who need to travel on public transport to do so safely. Those driving their own cars have been asked to avoid busy areas.

For those who have to use public transport, the guidance for passengers on how to travel safely recommends:

  • keeping 2 metres apart from others wherever possible;
  • wearing a face covering if you can;
  • using contactless payment where possible;
  • avoiding rush hour travel where feasible;
  • washing or sanitising your hands as soon as possible before and after travel; and
  • following advice from staff and being considerate to others.


England to get pop-up cycle lanes ‘within weeks’

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced that £250 million will be invested in creating pop-up cycle lanes, wider pavements, safer junctions and cycle and bus-only corridors in England.

The government said these would be delivered “within weeks”.

The emergency active travel fund forms the first stage of a £2 billion investment that is part of the £5 billion of new funding announced for cycling and buses in February, explained the government.

Levels of walking and cycling have increased during the coronavirus (Covd-19) pandemic, after the government told people to avoid public transport and stay at home to control spread of the virus. The government wants to enact these plans to encourage more people to choose alternatives to public transport as well make healthier habits easier.

It will work with local authorities across England to make it easier for people to cycle – including Greater Manchester, which wants to create 150 miles of protected cycle track, and Transport for London. 

Facilitate Magazine reports: Government states that 'working from home should continue wherever possible'

Workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible, the government has said in its new Covid-19 recovery strategy. 

'Our plan to rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy’ states that workers working from home “will help minimise the number of social contacts across the country and therefore keep transmissions as low as possible”. 

"People who are able to work at home make it possible for people who have to attend workplaces in person to do so while minimising the risk of overcrowding on transport and in public places. 

"All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories."

Facilitate Magazine reports: CIBSE publishes guides for safe reoccupation of building  

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) has published various documents addressing a number of issues that must be considered for the safe reoccupation of buildings.

CIBSE Covid Emerging from Lockdown: Safely Re-occupying Buildings is intended to give business owners and managers an outline of the main areas to be considered concerning both safe working practices and the assessment of building services.

The advice in CIBSE Covid Ventilation Guidance is for building owners/managers and operators when reopening buildings following a period of inactivity and considering the requirements for the ventilation system. 

Facilitate Magazine reports: Many workers anxious about returning to offices post-lockdown

Many UK employees are concerned about the health implications of returning to the office post-lockdown.  

Among office-based employees who are working from home during the coronavirus, 59 per cent are worried about being able to maintain social distancing, and nearly half (44 per cent) are concerned about hygiene and cleaning standards in the office.

The YouGov poll, for the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, surveyed office workers across the country to reveal that over a third (34 per cent) are concerned about getting used to a corporate office culture again after the lockdown.


Latest NI Covid-19 planning update highlights flexible committees and greater delegation

Northern Ireland’s chief planner Angus Kerr’s latest update (no 6) highlights that new regulations on local authority committee meetings are now in force. 

The Local Government (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of District Council Meetings) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 came into effect on 1 May 2020. These allow district councils to hold meetings remotely by telephone conferencing, videoconferencing, live webcast and live interactive streaming.

The regulations apply to all councils and all council meetings, including committee or sub-committee meetings, executive meetings and meetings of joint committees of two or more councils.

Pedestrianisation in prospect as Cork plots post-Covid-19 strategy

A number of narrow and historic high-footfall streets in Cork city are set to be pedestrianised to help the city reopen as Covid-19 restrictions

Paul Street, Tuckey Street and Pembroke Street will be closed to traffic and pedestrianisation measures will be enhanced to ensure that physical distancing can be maintained. This will involve the removal of some car parking, the relocation of disabled parking bays, and the removal of bollards.

The Marina riverside amenity, about three kilometres downriver of the city centre, will be closed to all vehicular traffic for the summer.

PAC: Office to reopen next week

The offices of the Planning Appeals Commission in  Park House, Belfast will reopen on 11 May but only during the morning for the immediate future.

All arrangements for hearings are currently suspended. PAC has published a guidance note on how it will progress its casework during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Pinsent Masons: Lawyers highlight planning permission deadline problems

Nicholle Kingsley and Jennifer Craske from legal firm Pinsent Masons have voiced concern that despite industry pressure on the UK Government some planning deadlines in England and Wales have not yet been adjusted to take account of the Covid-19 lockdown.

They highlighted issues to do with keeping planning permissions alive and compliance with planning conditions.

They argued that “top of the list” should be the automatic extension of planning permissions about to expire either through the approach adopted in Scotland or by using the framework already utilised during the 2008 economic recession.

Lobby group urges flexible rural plans (external)

Greater flexibility and a rural focus in the planning system is required if rural communities are to thrive in the future as Covid-19 takes its toll, rural businesses lobby Scottish Land & Estates has argued in its response to the Scotish Government’s call for ideas on the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF 4).


CCC says adapting to climate crisis ‘integral’ to UK recovery

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has set out six principles that the leaders of the UK should follow to rebuild the nation after the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. 

In letters to Prime Minister Borish Johnson, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and climate change secretary Roseanna Cunningham, Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, the committee say a recovery package should deliver a cleaner and more resilient economy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and adapts to the climate crisis.

UK Government: Revaluation of business rates postponed

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has announced that a revaluation of business rates will no longer take place in 2021 to help reduce uncertainty for firms affected by the impacts of coronavirus.

"We have listened to businesses and their concerns about the timing of the 2021 business rates revaluation and have acted to end that uncertainty by postponing the change," he said.

"Now is the time for us to continue to focus on supporting businesses affected by the pandemic, including through our unprecedented package of almost £10 billion in business rates relief."

The government will continue with its work to review business rates, with the key aim to be reducing the overall burden on businesses, improving the current business rates system, and considering more fundamental changes in the medium-to-long term. 

The call for evidence for the review will be published in the coming months.


Green space should be a priority in local plans

The social distancing measures implemented to contain the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) has highlighted the ‘critical importance’ of high-quality green spaces within housing developments, says Ecological Planning & Research Ltd (EPR).

The consultancy highlights that green and blue spaces have long been understood to improve human wellbeing – people with access to such amenities have lower levels of mental distress than those without, as was outlined by a Public Health England report in 2014. 

Therefore, there is a contrast between people’s experiences of lockdown, with some having access to green open spaces while others lack it, such as those living in dense urban areas or rural areas comprised of private farmland with no public access. 

For EPR, local plans should emphasise the provision of green and blue infrastructure, particularly in urban areas.

Public Practice boosts council capacity

Public Practice has announced that its fourth cohort of built environment professionals will see 39 people start roles between now and June.

Recruitment for this cohort took place in late 2019, with associates coming from a wide range of professional backgrounds. They will be placed across 22 authorities in London and the South East. 

Work for existing Public Practice associates includes assisting local authorities respond to coronavirus (Covid-19), and new cohorts will join the effort.

Taskforce created on Covid-19 rough sleepers response

The government has announced that a specialist taskforce has been created to to lead the next phase of its support for rough sleepers during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Dame Louise Casey will lead the taskforce.

It will work with councils across the country on plans to ensure rough sleepers can move into long-term, safe accommodation once the immediate crisis is over. Th government said it wants to make sure as few people as possible return to life on the streets.

Facilitate Magazine reports: ondon Nightingale hospital to be mothballed

The Nightingale hospital in East London that was set up to deal with a potential influx of patients affected with Covid-19 is to be mothballed, according to the NHS.

Those working at the field hospital at the ExCeL conference centre were told that no new patients will be admitted and that the facility would be put on standby.


Incremental upgrades to rail network would help Northern economy

Incremental rail improvements in the north of England would help to spur the region’s economy back into action after Covid-19, but projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail should be considered long-term schemes to level up the economy.

Legal landscape: The importance of keeping evidence proportionate in plan making

In the second of three pieces looking at how local plan making can be improved, Wayne Beglan argues for stricter rules around the supply of evidence to local plan compilation and examination to keep the focus clear and manageable.


Covid-19 triggers big planning changes in Northern Ireland

Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon has announced changes to the process for large planning applications, temporarily removing the requirement to hold a public event as part of the pre-application community consultation.

The changes are due to come into effect today (1 May) and will apply for five months. Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure has prepared guidance for applicants.

Applicants will still need to comply with other requirements to ensure that communities are aware of and can provide input to large development proposals for their areas. 

The Planning (Development Management) (Temporary Modifications) (Coronavirus) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 will temporarily amend the Planning (Development Management) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015.

The amendment will apply to proposal of application notices (PANs) submitted to councils before or during the defined emergency period.

Northern Ireland Executive: Mallon looks to reshaping recovery plan  

Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon this week stressed her commitment to an ambitious executive recovery plan which would involve “working towards reimagining and reshaping our spaces to accommodate cycling, walking and active travel” as part of a strategy “delivering cleaner, greener and healthier communities.”

Belfast Live reports: Tourism initiative to address post-pandemic recover

Economy minister Diane Dodds has set up a Tourism Recovery Steering Group to spearhead planning and preparations for the sector after the Covid-19 emergency is over.

Scottish Government: Latest Covid-19 planning moves in Scotland

The Scottish Government has published its promise guidance note on the emergency changes  to pre-application consultation requirements including expectations about the replacement of the public event with alternative, web-based approaches. In a separate but further Covid-19 move, regulations have come into effect  which amend the GPDO in respect of planning permission for certain medical developments required to reduce, mitigate or control the spread of the pandemic.

Scottish capital development update
Edinburgh City Council has revealed it has determined 360 planning applications since lockdown began and that its development management sub-committee will start to meet again virtually to consider significant planning applications from 20 May. 


PINS to hold digital hearing

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has announced that its first pilot digital hearing will take place on 11 May.

“We are preparing for additional cases to be heard by digital hearings/inquiries in May/early June with a view to scaling up digital events further over June/July,” a statement from PINS explained.

The organisation is assessing postponed cases to establish whether they can proceed by digital, traditional or a ‘hybrid’ approach, in order to re-arrange these in due course accordingly. A trial of ‘virtual site visits’ is also underway, which involves 13 inspectors.

Hills asks Jenrick to legislate for extended planning permissions  

The RTPI has again called on the government to bring forward legislation that extends planning permissions in England that are due to expire during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

In a letter to housing secretary Robert Jenrick, chief executive Victoria Hills said the government action on extending planning permissions is “urgently needed”.

“It is evident that government action is urgently needed to provide extensions to planning permissions set to expire in England during the period of the pandemic.

“Primary legislation appears to be required in order to provide automatic extensions to the permissions. We suggest you look at primary legislation to automatically extend those permissions expiring between now and the end of December, so they all expire instead on 31 December.”

RTPI expresses support for local authority planners’ use of new powers (external link)

With the functioning of local authority planning using new virtual meeting powers coming under increasing media scrutiny this week, RTPI head of policy Richard Blyth has voiced the institute’s support for planners as they seek to sustain the planning process.

“In these challenging times, local authorities have needed to make decisions about ways of progressing planning applications, including by using virtual planning committees and by delegating powers to senior officers,” said Blyth.

“The RTPI supports the continued ability of chartered, professional planners to make key decisions. Planning officers must follow the local plan and take full account of all public representations - the RTPI recognises the vital importance of community engagement in an effective planning process.

“We will soon be publishing a full analysis of the findings of a recent survey of our members’ experiences of the impact of Covid-19, which will be supplemented by wider interviews and information on how planning departments are responding to this unprecedented situation.”

Measures needed to safeguard public voice during Covid-19 pandemic

Campaigners have encouraged all local authorities to adopt measures to safeguard the public voice in planning decisions made under temporary legislation meant to enable the planning function to continue during the coronavirus pandemic.

The calls come after the government issued regulations to facilitate English local authorities to hold public meetings virtually, by phone or video link.

In a letter to housing secretary Robert Jenrick, they say: “While these unprecedented times rightly call for innovation, the current ad hoc access to the democratic and participatory process creates an unfair ‘postcode lottery’ which could result in long-term damage to the interests of local communities, to the wellbeing of vulnerable citizens and to the environment.”


Stantec asks Jenrick to clarify advice to local authorities

Engineering services firm Stantec has sent an open letter to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, regarding the impact of Covid-19 on the determination of planning applications. In the letter, the company’s senior associate planner, Michael Gilbert MA (Hons) MTCP MRTPI, asks for further government guidance to ensure that applications can be progressed and determined without delay.

Construction minister: Infrastructure crucial to post-Covid-19 recovery

Construction minister Nadhim Zahawi has spoken of bringing forward infrastructure projects to support the construction sector’s economic recovery after the Covid-19 crisis.

In an online speech to members of the National Federation of Builders’ Large Contractors Forum, Zahawi said he was “talking to other departments to see what projects we can accelerate or bring forward because in terms of incentivising growth, infrastructure is going to be important and the government’s commitment to infrastructure is going to be important”.

Council webcasts planning committee meeting

South Northamptonshire Council (SNC) has held its first online planning committee meeting.

On Thursday 23 April, 15 SNC members dialled into the council’s videoconference system to participate in the meeting, which was broadcast live on YouTube. 

Democratic, planning and legal officers also took part, as did the public, via seven recorded representations and one written statement from applicants, interested parties and objectors.

Legal landscape: How planning law is responding to Covid-19

A balance between rapid response and robust legislating must be struck in responding to emergencies, says Keith Lancaster.


Annual housing completions could drop by 100,000, analysis suggests

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic could cause annual housing completions to drop by around 94,000 homes by 2024/2025 – the year of the next general election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.

The analysis, by planning consultancy Barton Willmore, is predicated on comparable data from the 2008 global financial downturn. 

It suggests that the UK would see net new homes completed drop from 244,000 new homes in 2019/20 to 160,000 new homes in 2020/21. This decreased level would be maintained for four to five years while the economy strengthens and the housing sector rebounds.

The financial year 2023/24 would deliver the least amount of housing, at around 140,000 homes.

Fund set up to help heritage sector through Covid-19

Historic England has launched a fund of up to £2 million to tackle the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19) on the heritage sector.

The fund is envisaged as a “safety net” for the sector – helping small heritage organisations to survive the immediate challenges and prepare them for recovery.

Historic England developed the emergency fund after undertaking a survey of heritage organisations that highlighted the effect on the sector, particularly small organisations with 10 or fewer employees. 

UK Government Sunak updates Parliament

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has updated the House of Commons on the government’s economic response to coronavirus.

The goal of strategy is to provide a bridge over what will be a "sharp and significant crisis", by:

  • keeping as many people as possible in their existing jobs;
  • supporting viable businesses to stay afloat; and
  • and protecting the incomes of the most vulnerable.

"In other words, to maintain the productive capacity of the British economy."


More time allowed for public participation in planning

The Irish Government has agreed to a further extension for all public participation in the planning system for 19 additional days, up to and including 9 May 2020, as a result of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

This decision means that the initial 23-day extension to public participation periods is now 42 days or six weeks.

New regulations for Welsh local authority meetings should help planning

Legislation currently places requirements on local authorities to meet in person in specified offices, to make many meetings open to the public and to enable the public to inspect documents related to the meetings, in some cases in the offices of local authorities.

This runs counter to the measures in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

The changes just announced – the Local Authorities (Coronavirus) (Meetings) (Wales) Regulations 2020 – make temporary provision for local authority meetings and for public and press access to these meetings during the pandemic.

Work stalls on developments in Northern Ireland

Figures collated by industry body CIS show that current Covid-19 restrictions have stopped the construction of 5,000 houses and 1,500 flats in Northern Ireland.

These schemes have a combined value of €925 million (£807,756,250) according to an update published by Construction Information Services.

Work stalls on 50,000 new homes and flats

Figures compiled by trade body Construction Information Services (CIS) has revealed that the Covid-19 emergency has stalled work on 33,000 houses and 17,000 apartments in the republic.

However, contractors have been notified by the country’s Housing Agency that work should resume on 35 sites where 1,000 social housing units were close to completion before the hiatus occurred.

Planning Inspectorate tailors its casework 

Planning Inspectorate Wales has published an update on how it is handling  casework from each individual planning authority. In some instances it is not starting new appeals. Its appeals casework portal remains operational and is the preferred route for submission of new appeals and representations.

NRW: Latest advice on compliance

Natural Resources Wales has announced that providing businesses prioritise compliance with permit conditions that directly protect the environment it will take a “proportionate and reasonable” approach over how it assesses compliance during the Covid-19 emergency.

Pinsent Masons: Advice on completing s106 agreements during lockdown

Pinsent Masons’ partner James Lockerbie and legal director Jo Miles have proposed several solutions for planners wanting to complete on section 106 agreements, a process rendered difficult because of the current Covid-19 restrictions.

UK Government: Cash to protect freight routes to Northern Ireland

A multi-million-pound government scheme has been announced to help ensure "critical" freight can continue to move into and across the union by ferry.

The package, worth up to £17 million, is being funded by the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive and will be made available to operators so that they can continue running freight services on five sea routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UK Government: Emergency fund for island transport links

The government has announced emergency funding of up to £10.5 million to support "lifeline" transport links to the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly. 

The funding – agreed jointly by the Department for Transport (DfT) and Her Majesty’s Treasury – will support the continuation of crucial passenger ferries to the Isle of Wight as well as sea and air links to the Isles of Scilly over the next three months.


RTPI outlines planning reform priorities

Planning in England should be refocused on 21st century issues and technology should be harnessed to improve efficiency, according to the RTPI.

In a new report, the institute also said it should be well-resourced in order to prepare for a sustainable economic recovery after the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. 

Published ahead of the government’s planning white paper, Priorities for Planning Reform in England, sets out five recommendations for how better planning can help the government tackle the UK’s housing crisis and other, wider 21st century issues. 

Consultancy launches Covid-19 tracker

Planning consultancy Lichfields has created an online resource to assist planning professionals with navigating the planning environment during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.


Small is beautiful: Planning for a post-Covid world

Is the ‘20-minute neighbourhood’ the solution to the impacts that the coronavirus epidemic is having on our lives? Nick Corbett puts the case for urban villages as a route out of the oppression of lockdown.

21/4/ 2020

How legal changes can keep planning and development open during the coronavirus epidemic

The Law Society has requested a slew of changes to the English planning system to enable planning and development to continue during the coronavirus epidemic and the post-lockdown period, as Sara Hanrahan explains

"It is not yet possible to determine when lockdown eases if there will be an immediate bounce back or not, but in either scenario planning will have an important role in the recovery of both housing and the wider economy."

Sky News reports: This is how much traffic congestion has dropped in your city during lockdown

New data from TomTom has revealed a significant drop in the number of people driving on the UK's roads during lockdown.

Traffic congestion has almost disappeared since the government advised people to stay at home in order to stop the spread of Covid-19.

In the UK's 25 largest cities congestion levels have dropped by an average of 57 per cent - from 73 per cent to just 16 per cent.

London Property Alliance writes to MHCLG (external)

London Property Alliance (CPA & WPA) has written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) urging it to get London building as soon as possible to support future housing delivery and improve retail flexibility.

The letter set out that there should be an automatic two-year extension of existing planning permissions for major developments due to expire over the next 12 months and that the government should bring forward alterations to Class A use classes, to improve high street flexibility after Covid-19.


Lawyers outline measures to address permission expiry deadlines

The legal profession in England and Wales has outlined a number of planning measures to help to manage the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19) – including amending primary legislation to extend the time limit on planning permissions.

The Law Society of England and Wales Planning & Environmental Law Committee and the City of London Law Society Planning & Environmental Law Committee have written to housing secretary Robert Jenrick with eight suggestions on the steps that can be taken to ensure that the planning system and the construction industry can deliver during and after the crisis.

As Parliament is just coming out of Easter recess, and could sit with a reduced number of MPs or even virtually, the committees acknowledge that amendments to primary legislation “could suffer from more restrictive parliamentary time”. 

Therefore, they have “looked at the appropriateness of temporary development changes and where these can be made using secondary legislation or non-legislative guidance”.

Cycling minister urged to support safety measures

Pressure groups have urged cycling minister Chris Heaton-Harris to support the reallocation of road space to cyclists and pedestrians during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and resulting lockdown.

In a letter to Heaton-Harris, Cycling UK, British Cycling, Brompton Bicycle, London Cycling Campaign, the Bicycle Association, Sustrans, and The Ramblers – supported by the director of public health at Barts Health NHS Trust – highlight that roads are being used less and “that many street layouts across the UK are not currently fit for purpose during the pandemic”.

The letter states that the UK has “vast amounts” of road space currently being underused that can be temporarily reallocated at low cost. “This is becoming increasingly essential as key workers choose cycling or walking to get to work, avoiding potential transmission via public transport.”

It concludes with an appeal to the minister to support cycle and walking spaces, not only for the immediate situation, but to mitigate against a second wave of the virus when people begin returning to work and avoid public transport. 


Planners concerned about delays to the system

A survey conducted by the RTPI has shown that its members are concerned about delays to the planning system and its efficient functioning during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak and resulting lockdown measures.

After considering the results, the institute urged the government to issue guidance to prevent unnecessary delays to development and the knock-on effect to the economy. 

Guidance is needed to address a range of challenges including planning permission durations, site visits, site notices, communication with stakeholders, and transparent decision-making.

Belfast planning committee move

Belfast City Council chief executive Suzanne Wylie has been given special emergency delegated powers in lieu of the planning committee, a move subject to agreement from the Department for Infrastructure.

Winners and losers in a campaign-free spring: How coronavirus is affecting local politics

The coronavirus epidemic has derailed this spring's local elections. That's good news for those of us who don't have to face a spring of being doorstepped by candidates, but not such good news for the government, says Tom Curtin.


PINS update

The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) expects to be holding its first digital pilot case either at the end of this month or early next month. It is currently in the process of firming up details with the parties concerned and will provide an update on this as soon as practically possible. 

The organisation will review the situation as and when government advice changes and expects to publish further updates on an ongoing basis.  

Welsh emergency hospital PDR measure

The regulations which allow the NHS to carryout emergency development of hospital facilities in Wales (e.g. converting a sports or leisure centre into a hospital) without having to apply for planning permission have been published.

New regulations to keep planning in Scotland functioning head for Parliament 

The administration has laid regulations in the Scottish Parliament - due to come into force on 24 April - that will help keep planning functioning during the Covid-19 outbreak. These measures include the temporary steps to suspend the need for public events in pre-application consultation, local review bodies meeting in public and hard copies of EIA reports in physical places. Guidance on all of this is promised soon.

Councils allowed to defer £2.6bn in business rates payments

The UK Government has announced that councils will be allowed to defer £2.6 billion in business rates payments to central government, and £850 million in social care grants will be paid up front this month.

The measures aim to help ease immediate pressures on local authority cash flows.


Covid-19: Emergency fund for UK heritage

The National Lottery Heritage Fund has announced an emergency £50 million fund to support heritage during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

The new fund is to address the immediate pressures that occur over the next three to six months for those most in need – as well as investing in essential digital skills across the sector. 

It will provide expertise in areas such as digital fundraising, use of social media and communications, and running online events and activities.

Facilitate Magazine reports: Vinci Construction on site for Welsh Rainbow Hospitals

Construction UK is a part of a group that is creating temporary Rainbow Hospitals at Deeside Leisure Centre and Bangor University – the equivalent of the Nightingale hospitals that have opened in parts of England. 

Renamed Ysbyty Enfys Glannau Dyfrdwy (Rainbow Hospital Deeside) and Ysbyty Enfys Bangor (Rainbow Hospital Bangor), they will form two out of three sites that have been handed over to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) to provide a combined 1,000 additional beds to help to meet increased demand over the coming weeks and months. 

Welsh planning 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 pandemic.


Community groups invited to monitor public participation in planning

The national charity for the civic movement has asked communities and local authorities to provide it with feedback on how new regulations for determining planning applications during the Covid-19 outbreak are being implemented.

Civic Voice, which is seeking to ensure that communities are engaged in the planning process from the outset, wants stakeholders in the planning system to feed into its research to understand the effect the temporary regulations may have on community participation in the planning process.


Permitted development rights for creation of medical facilities comes into effect

Emergency legislation that allows councils and health providers in England to establish facilities to aid the fight against the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak came into force today (9 April).

The temporary permitted development will come to an end on 31 December 2020.

The right allows “local authorities and health service bodies to carry out development, both works and change of use, of facilities required in undertaking their roles to respond to the spread of coronavirus, without a requirement to submit a planning application".

Buildings that could be changed include conference facilities, such as London’s ExCeL, which has already been transformed into NHS Nightingale. Buildings can be temporarily erected on land that is owned or leased by health service bodies or local authorities, or on their behalf to “provide health facilities such as temporary hospitals, coroner facilities, mortuaries and testing units”.

Plea for air and sea ports bailout in Northern Ireland

Stormont ministers have insisted that air and sea ports in the province need urgent help to survive the Covid-19 crisis.

They have asked UK transport secretary Grant Shapps to introduce special measures.

Opinion: The future of plan-making in light of Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to cause significant slippage in both the progress of local plans and housing completions. Roland Brass speculates on the implications, and potential solutions to the issues this raises


RTPI experts discuss how planning has responded to the Covid-19 crisis

The RTPI's head of policy Richard Blyth, director of Scotland and Ireland Craig McLaren, director of Wales and Northern Ireland Roisin Willmott and chief executive Victoria Hills discuss how planning is supporting the governments of the UK to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

West London council to host virtual planning meeting

Kensington and Chelsea Council is due to host what it believes will be the first fully virtual planning meeting since new regulations came into force last week. 

On 9 April, Kensington and Chelsea Council will convene its planning applications committee meeting, which will be chaired by James Husband.

Councillors, officers and members of the public who have asked to speak at the meeting will be able to dial into the virtual call. This will be broadcast via the council’s website for the wider public.

All relevant documents are available online and officers will make online presentations during the meeting.


RTPI CEO: Covid-19 a potential ‘game changer’ for PlanTech

RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills expects the remote working practices enforced as a result of the coronavirus crisis to result in changes to how planning is carried out within local authorities as newly embraced tech tools become the norm.

Facilitate Magazine reports: Two more sites to be retrofitted as hospitals

NHS England has announced that two new NHS Nightingale field hospitals will be created in Bristol and Harrogate to provide hundreds of extra beds if local services need them during the peak of coronavirus.

These are in addition to those under development in London, Manchester and Birmingham.


Face-to-face consultation to be replaced with online alternative in Scotland

The Scottish Government is set to suspend the requirement to consult face-to-face on major and national developments during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown. 

Writing to local authorities, the country’s chief planner John McNairney and planning minister Kevin Stewart, explained that they intend to bring forward emergency regulations for this element of the planning process. 

This “reflects the reality that face-to-face contact must be avoided for now”. 

However, prospective applicants are expected to replace this requirement with an alternative online version so that people can still be engaged and have the opportunity to influence proposals that affect them. 

Facilitate Magazine reports: IWFM asks government to ensure key stadd have accesso to buildings

The IWFM has joined other built estate membership organisations in asking the government to help key facilities personnel continue their work during the coronavirus crisis.

In a letter to communities secrtary Robert Jenrick, the organisations point out that many of their members who typically provide key facilities and safety-critical services “are struggling to provide them, sometimes because of public perceptions about who should be able to move around in the current environment.”

The letter emphasises the importance of ensuring that this core group of professionals “remain active and have access to specific buildings – taking into account social distancing practices – in order to ensure they are properly monitored and maintained.”

High streets to benefit from £22bn grants and business rates package

The government has promised struggling high street firms that they will be receiving £22 billion coronavirus boost, with grants of up to £25,000 already being paid into their bank accounts.

Also, to support those affected by the coronavirus outbreak, eligible properties, including those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, will not pay business rates for the next 12 months. The measure is projected to save firms in England £11 billion.

Feature: How to keep planning applications on track during Covid-19

It’s not exactly business as usual during the coronavirus lockdown but the planning sector has shown determination and adaptability in its efforts to keep the system working. Alexandra Ground and Katherine Chambers take a look at the adjustments being made to ensure planning applications can still be submitted and assessed. 


Regulations for virtual planning meetings issued

The government has issued the regulations required for English local authorities to hold public meetings virtually during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.

They come into effect on 4 April.

The regulations aim to ensure that local authorities can make effective and transparent decisions for various services that they provide, including planning decisions, and hold cabinet and committee meetings. They apply to all local authorities in England.

Local authorities are still required to make meetings accessible to the public. The government said it up to each local authority to decide how they conduct meetings, how voting procedures work and how to ensure that the public has access.

The regulations apply to meetings taking place before 7 May 2021. 

PACC events cancelled as NI’s chief planner moots extended planning permissions

The Department for Infrastructure has announced its intention to remove the requirement for pre-application community consultation (PACC) events for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency. 

Amendments to the Planning (Development Management) Regulations NI 2015 will be required.

The move is highlighted in the latest update (no 5) from chief planner Angus Kerr.

Covid-19 triggers more time for public participation in Ireland

The Irish Government has approved immediate changes to the planning system necessitated by the Covid-19 emergency, which will have the effect of allowing more time for public participation in planning applications.

This will be extended by three weeks. This new time frame will also apply to planning appeals.

Emergency bill extends duration of planning permissions in Scotland

The Scottish Parliament has voted unanimously in favour of new emergency powers – including an extension to the expiry times for planning permissions. 

The legislation, the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill, was rushed through the Scottish Parliament in the space of one day on Wednesday (1 April).

The new measures extend any planning permission – including planning permissions in principle – that would lapse within the next six months so that it will not expire until April 2021.

Scottish ministers would have the power, through regulations, to amend the duration of these six-month and one-year periods.

Sizewell C DCO application delayed

EDF has announced that it will submit its application for a Development Consent Order (DCO) for a nuclear power station 'slightly later than planned' due to the outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19).

The application for Sizewell C was due to be submitted by the end of March to the Planning Inspectorate, where it would have been considered under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime.


Waltham Forest approves 750 homes at virtual meeting

Waltham Forest Council’s planning committee has granted planning permission for a 750-home scheme in Leyton at a virtual planning meeting. 

As well as the homes, Taylor Wimpey and the council sought full planning permission for the demolition of existing structures and the building of five blocks ranging from three to 18 storeys in height on the site of the Score Centre.

For the meeting, councillors on the planning committee met in a committee room where they maintained social distancing, as set out in government guidance to address the spread of Covid-19. All other participation was conducted through Microsoft Teams.

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.

PINs issues Covid-19 update

The Planning Inspectorate (PINs) has outlined how it is working during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, which is seeing people working from under strict measures issued by the government to stem the spread of the virus.

The update covers the trialling of new technology and guidance for nationally significant infrastructure projects, local plans and planning appeals. 


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 reports: 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 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