COVID-19 has and continues to affect the construction industry. The unprecedented lockdown brought delays to projects, affected by planning applications being halted and new safety measures being implemented to ensure health and safety on site.
As we start to slowly return to some kind of normality, (we say this with bated breath!) those in the construction industry have been keen to get back on site and complete their builds.
In a bid to help the construction industry, the government confirmed new measures to extend planning permission deadlines, designed to get ‘Britain building again’. The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick announced that planning approvals with an expiry date between March 2020 and the end of the year, would be extended to 1st April 2021. (Under planning rules, development permissions expire after 3 years if work is not started). As part of this move to help developers and builders, Robert Jenrick also announced that the planning appeals process would be speeded up and flexible hours would be introduced for builders with the green light given from local councils to support them.
The importance of housing and the speed at which the planning system progresses has been (up until the pandemic) at the forefront of the political agenda in 2020, with, amongst other things, the Government promising 300,000 new homes annually. As previously discussed in an article, the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper, proposes a number of changes to simplify, speed up and improve the planning system, and a further consultation, ‘Raising accessibility standards’ aims to raise the accessibility standards of new homes.
Virtual Planning Committees
During the pandemic, Local Planning Authorities were issued with guidance from PAS (planning advisory service) on protocols required to host virtual planning committees.
The aim was to enable councils to work flexibly and decisions to be made with little delay or disruption.
France and Associates have undertaken virtual meetings with planning officers in March and May 2020 on behalf of their Clients, which allowed a much more streamlined and quicker turn around for meetings, for obvious practical reasons such as availability and being able to easily share drawing data, such as “walk through” 3D models. This has allowed a better outcome for the Client, allowing a planning officer to better understand the design and the impact it could have generally. The process has at times cut out the “back and forth” on written communication between parties, which can take inherently longer and often lead to a “loss in translation”, when discussing aspects of the design and the development.
Fortunately, France + Associates have not been required to attend any virtual planning committee meetings as all applications submitted have been smaller developments or less contentious, but we are aware that where planning applications have been referred to the committee, the process has still taken place at no detriment to the outcome of the application.
Unfortunately, and despite these more streamlined measures being put place, we are still seeing an increase in planning applications facing severe delays. With local authorities currently operating with fewer staff and resources, who are often delayed in “normal” operating times, the global pandemic has seen planning resources stretched even further. Many architects, planning consultants, developers and builders are frustrated that not enough is being done to enable the construction industry to “get back to normal”, by creating further support in the local authorities development sector, to overcome what was an already overstretched service.
Development and construction is continuing at a similar pace, if not in some areas busier than ever and yet it appears this could be hampered if the planning services teams remain so stretched.
Planning applications have after all increased for many local authorities over 2020.
There have been sharp rises seen in planning applications in the domestic market for homeowners seeking changes to their home to utilise unspent holiday funds, Landowners are taking the time to review developments for other purposes, looking forward to a slightly changed landscape in the future. There are question marks over city centre developments, student housing and alternative uses for industrial/commercial buildings. As we are aware, businesses have declined with some sadly lost, so applications are being made to bring empty buildings back into use through change of use applications, further clogging up the planning system.
In addition, delays have also come about to the way some planning departments are operating. Since the relaxation from the initial “lockdown” measures, those in the private sector continue to carry out safe and socially distanced site visits, meeting “Covid-secure” guidelines. This is not the case for local authorities, with still a large portion of planning departments still adhering to the strict rules implemented during the first lockdown, which prevents them from visiting a site “on the ground”.
Unfortunately, the severe planning application delays will, if they continue on their present form, potentially hamper the construction industry by delaying projects from commencing onsite.
As we enter another lockdown, we and many others within the construction industry, aim to stay open with services remaining unaffected. We will continue to complete site visits in a COVID secure way.
Our office is currently closed to the public between the 5th November and the 2nd December 2020, but we can be contacted either via telephone – 01484 960560 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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