LPAs are responding in different ways to continuing their planning service during the pandemic. You should be able to find out from your local council’s website how they are dealing with planning applications, local plans and neighbourhood planning at the moment.
Processing Planning Applications
Most authorities will only accept new applications submitted electronically – there are unlikely to be many, if any, planning staff in Council offices to receive any postal correspondence. Procedures regarding site visits will vary, often depending on the type of application, how much of the site can be viewed from publicly accessible areas and what the Council has advised their staff in terms of performing these tasks.
To help planning officers make an informed assessment, particularly where a site visit may be difficult, then it may be a good idea to submit photographs or even a video with your application. This will also apply to objectors who would otherwise want a planning officer to visit their property to assess an impact of a proposal from their point of view. Your own photos/videos showing the issues will be useful for the planning officer in making an assessment.
Local Planning Authorities are also taking different approaches to Site Notices – some will post/e-mail them to an applicant for them to display and take a photo to show where it was posted. Others are deciding not to determine applications until it they judge it safe for their staff to go out and post site notices. If it’s not clear from your local authority’s website, there will usually be a generic e-mail address or phone line where you can enquire.
New temporary regulations and guidance were introduced on 14 May 2020 and will be in effect until 31 December 2020: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/consultation-and-pre-decision-matters#covid19
Essentially, these regulations allow Local Planning Authorities to take ‘other reasonable steps’ to publicise applications if the specific requirements for site notices, newspaper advertisements, neighbour notifications or deposit of hard copy documents cannot be fulfilled for reasons relating to the pandemic. The guidance accompanying the regulations suggests for example, the use of social media and other electronic communication. It also highlights that planning authorities will also wish to consider non-electronic means of communication such as publishing notices in community newsletters, use of local radio and use of community noticeboards.
Making decisions on applications – what if an application I am objecting to/supporting or have submitted might need to be decided at planning committee?
Again, there are a variety of approaches to this. Some councils have agreed to amend their procedures to allow all planning decisions to be delegated to a senior officer such as the Head of Planning or Chief Executive, often in consultation with elected members. Some are holding ‘virtual’ committees, where officers will do a presentation as usual, Members will ask questions and discuss. A lot of virtual committees will also allow objectors/supporters to speak – usually by registering beforehand and then potentially pre-recording a submission or providing a written statement which is then read out at the committee meeting. Again, this is something to check with the Council and they’ll be able to advise you how to be involved at the committee meeting. Current government guidance to Local Planning Authorities (13 May 2020) encourages them to make use of technology to conduct 'virtual' planning committees.
If you have had a planning application refused and wish to appeal, the Planning Inspectorate are continuing to function, further guidance is on their website here: https://www.gov.uk/topic/planning-development/planning-permission-appeals
Responding to consultations – local plans
In terms of local plans and new planning policy consultations, authorities are taking different approaches. Some have specifically said they will not be carrying out any new consultations whilst social distancing is in force. Others may choose to continue with their programme of consultation on a new plan. If you are unable to submit comments online or by e-mail then you may want to telephone your local council for further advice, or get in touch with your District, Ward or Parish Councillor who may be able to make representations on your behalf.
Planning Practice guidance on plan making has been updated to explain how Local Authorities can review and update their Statements of Community Involvement so that plan making can continue: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/plan-making?utm_source=5b235a27-ad78-4a8d-af75-1e81bf0c9cd7&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate#covid19%C2%A0
Further help and guidance
If you can't find the information you're looking for on our website, then Planning Aid's e-mail advice service may be able to help: firstname.lastname@example.org
The RTPI also publish a directory of planning consultants, where you can find a suitable consultant working in your area: https://www.rtpiconsultants.co.uk
updated 18 May 2020