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25/03/2020

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

Words: Laura Edgar
Steve Quartermain

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

While face-to-face events and meetings might need to be cancelled, it is “important” that local authorities continue to provide the “best possible service in these stretching times and prioritise decision-making to ensure the planning system continues to function, especially where this will support the local economy”.

In a valedictory letter to local planning authority departments, Quartermain, who leaves the chief planner role at the end of this month, advised that committee decisions should be delegated where appropriate.

He explained that the government would be introducing legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period.

“We encourage you to be pragmatic and continue, as much as possible, to work proactively with applicants and others, where necessary agreeing extended periods for making decisions.”

There will be circumstances during the outbreak of Covid-19 in which a planning authority is unable to consider a permitted development prior approval application within the deemed consent period, something Quartermain said the government recognises. 

“It remains important to prioritise these so important economic activity can continue. In these exceptional circumstances the authority can, if necessary, seek to agree an extended approval date with the applicant. Where agreement cannot be reached an authority may need to consider whether prior approval is refused if the application cannot be considered with the requisite attention,” he explained. 

A note from Steve Quartermain in his final letter to local planning authorities:

“Can I thank you for all your support during these difficult times and indeed throughout my time here? Planning is a wonderful profession and we have great people doing a great job. Be practical, be pragmatic and let’s plan for the recovery.”

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

The letter also highlighted the measures that have already been implemented by the government to aid the planning sector through the crisis, including:

  • A written ministerial statement urging planning authorities to apply pragmatism to the enforcement of food delivery restrictions.
  • How the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) will carry out its duties.
  • Planning regulations in England will be relaxed so that pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways, which has necessitated a temporary change to permitted development rights.
  • The postponement of neighbourhood plan referendums. To minimise the financial impact of any delays to referendums, local planning authorities will be able to submit claims for New Burdens grant at an earlier point in the neighbourhood planning process in 2020/21.

On wider planner issues, the letter covers:

  • Planning for the Future, which sets out several planning reforms ahead of the publication of the planning white paper later this spring.
  • The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission and how the housing secretary has indicated that the government will look to “take forward many of the commission’s recommendations and will publish its response alongside the planning white paper”.
  • The Aggregate Mineral Survey for England and Wales 2019 – MHCLG has appointed the British Geological Survey to undertake the national collation for 2019. 

The letter can be read in full on the UK Government website (pdf).

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