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Planning sector can lead economic recovery – opinion from Paul Walton

Like anyone working in the property world for a certain length of time, you get used to how quickly things can change.

But little could have prepared anyone for what’s happened within the space of just a few short weeks.

I feel incredibly proud of the way the property sector has responded to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

As it always does, the industry has shown true grit, and central and local government have also risen to the occasion.

We’ve seen instant changes to planning rules being made to support businesses and their owners. More planning business, and indeed council business, is being done by video. Planning officers have picked up the mantle to determine planning applications and are taking the decisions to allow the wheels to stay turning.

Encouraged by government’s determination to see construction continue, where it can done safely, many developers and contractors have soldiered on through the lockdown. Many of those that did close sites are now in the process of reopening them.

It shows just how vital the property world is in terms of sustaining livelihoods, building new homes and delivering the other important infrastructure our nation needs.

The economic outlook is gloomy, but I believe the property sector will bounce back strongly. And the planning system can play a significant role in leading the UK’s economic recovery.

If you’re on the verge of making a planning application and are having doubts, my advice is to hold your nerve and keep going. Planning decisions are understandably taking slightly longer, but they are still happening. A fall in planning applications also means that officers can potentially help applications progress more quickly.

Like so many parts of the economy and our lives, the things we’ve learnt that are possible from recent events offer the opportunity for this to be a ‘reset moment’ for the planning system and wider property world.

Is it possible to use technology to make the planning process more efficient? Can decisions be made quicker? Can cumbersome and unwieldly planning regulations be changed positively and more quickly in future?

In the meantime, we’ll continue adjusting to this new kind of normal. PWA Planning will still be here to advise our clients and support them through the planning process.  Just get in touch if you want to talk.

Paul Walton is founder and director of PWA Planning.

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