COVID-19 impacts on the planning world

20 March 2020

Delivery hour controls have been relaxed to help supermarkets match supply with demand and planning rules have been relaxed to allow pubs and restaurants to act as takeaways.

Here at Planning Potential, we are getting used to comprehensive home-working. We are a sociable bunch so it’s going to take some getting used to. However, we are getting fully acquainted with our remote working tools and systems, keeping regular contact with our colleagues and clients, and for us, it’s business as usual!

When I started writing this article, at the beginning of the week, there had been only one major planning impact due to the coronavirus outbreak, the relaxation of delivery hours controls. Since then, we’ve seen a fair few other significant changes, and the week isn’t over yet…

This article looks at our experience when speaking to multiple Planning Authorities, about multiple projects, following some of these key coronavirus related events.

The announcement that central Government was to relax delivery hour controls came as part of initiatives to help supermarkets match supply with demand. We contacted a number of councils at the time, to understand further what this meant for our retail clients. They all responded to say they would be taking a pragmatic and positive approach to delivery hours restrictions, for food retailers and distributors, and the freight industry.  “Furthermore, a positive approach should be taken in relation to ensuring that stores can remain open to serve the local community.”

However, they were careful to point out that operators should seek to minimise noise and disturbance during this time and, when this current emergency has passed, stores will be expected to resume normal delivery arrangements, even if there were no complaints from the ‘understanding public’ during this exceptional time.

We then started to hear that some Planning Committee meetings were to be cancelled. At this point, Government advice was to limit large gatherings, Planning Committees are not always large gatherings (depending on the agenda!), and so, some continued.

However, the stepping up of government advice for vulnerable groups to ‘socially distance’, households with a member showing symptoms to self-isolate, and guidance to “avoid all unnecessary social contact”, removed a lot of doubt about which meetings should proceed and which shouldn’t. As a consequence, at the time of writing, most Planning Committees had been postponed, at least until Councils find a way forward which doesn’t bring development to a grinding halt.

Possible solutions could be Committees proceeding using web conferencing facilities, or by extending delegated powers. We know from experience that some Councils are more progressive than others with their adoption of web streaming technology, so we will be watching with interest as more news is announced.

Similarly, on Tuesday the Planning Inspectorate announced it would be suspending all local plan appeals and NSIP hearings. Instead, local plan inspectors will attempt to progress the pre and post-hearing stages of the examination. The organisation will be looking into “technological solutions”, to allow some of these hearings to go ahead.

On Wednesday, we heard that the government would be relaxing planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to act as takeaways, helping them to sustain their business, and helping provide food (and possibly a takeaway treat!) to self-isolated / socially distanced households. This is expected to be in place for up to 12 months, and won’t affect alcohol licensing rules.

Yesterday, we didn’t have any significant changes announced, but today is another day. The news is changing minute-by-minute as people and organisations respond to this unprecedented situation. We’ll let you know more when we do.

Stay safe all.

Sarah Curnow, Consultant