Making the most of summer – What’s changed in planning and construction following coronavirus?

Following the government announcement about the further easing of lockdown from July 4, our senior planner Matt Wyatt rounds up the key changes to planning laws that businesses and the construction sector can take advantage of to get back to work this summer.

With government announcements coming thick and fast, the legislative framework around planning and construction understandably isn’t keeping pace with the changes being announced.

And where businesses need to make the most of the summer months, there may simply not be time for them to go through the motions of submitting a full planning application before commencing.

So, here’s a brief round-up of some of the recent announcements with my own brief comments and observations from a planning perspective on how businesses can best use them.

Extending the life of planning permissions

On June 22 a statement from the housing ministry said sites with planning permission that have an expiry date between the start of lockdown (March 23) and the end of this year will now see the life of the consent extended to April 1, 2021.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick MP said the change would be brought in alongside previously trailed measures to speed up the planning appeals process. This will “save hundreds of construction sites from being cancelled before they have a chance to get spades in the ground,” said Mr Jenrick.

The legislation is yet to come through. However, if a developer wants to start on-site but is worried they have nothing formal to confirm their permission remains valid, PWA can liaise with the local planning authority on a developer’s behalf to secure appropriate written agreements.

Deferring Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments

CIL is a financial contribution that is expected by a local council in relation to most new proposed developments. Not all councils have a CIL requirement, but herein Lancashire charging has been adopted by the Central Lancashire Authorities (including Preston City Council, South Ribble Borough Council and Chorley Council).

The government has said it intends to introduce amendments to the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations, that will enable charging authorities to defer payments, temporarily disapply late payment interest, and to provide a discretion to return interest already charged (where they consider it appropriate) for developers that have an annual turnover of less than £45m.

The guidance details that the amendments will take time to formally introduce because it relates to an Act of Parliament and requires debate. However, charging authorities are encouraged to be pragmatic given the government’s intentions.

If there is a developer that wants to make a start on a building project but is worried about being required to make full CIL payments, then we can help to negotiate an appropriate instalment deal.

Extended site construction hours

Often when planning permissions are granted, especially where they are near existing residential properties, they are subject to conditions which limit the hours in which construction can take place.

In an announcement back in May, the government stated that construction hours will be allowed until 9pm or later ‘with immediate effect’. This has economic benefits and will help to promote social distancing.

The issue again is that the legislation hasn’t kept pace, so if you have a permission that is subject to a construction hours restriction, then the developer could technically find themselves within breach of planning control. It could be likely that objections are made to the local planning authority, especially in cases where there was originally fierce opposition to the planning application in the first place. Moreover, a formal application to vary the hours restriction can take 8-13 weeks.

Having spoken with a number of local planning authorities, we have found that most are open to temporarily bypassing the need to formally apply to vary conditions. Instead, they seem willing to agree hours through written or email exchange. Agreements will vary depending on specific circumstances, but most councils are very sympathetic to the situation. Where works are proposed beyond 9pm, these could be limited to much quieter internal works, such as electrics and plumbing.

New time-limited permitted development rights for pubs, cafes and restaurants

The government introduced new permitted development rights in March to allow pubs, cafes and restaurants to operate as takeaways/delivery services. This is a temporary measure that is effective until March 23, 2021. However, it could be extended again at a later date.

The legislation requires the operator to inform the local planning authority that such a change is taking place for each premises. Additionally, the permitted development right does not apply if the use as a takeaway / delivery service was restricted by conditions tied to the original planning permission for the restaurant or pub use.

In 2017, permitted development rights were also introduced to enable pubs and drinking establishments to expand their food provision, without being formally acknowledged as a restaurant. If we take the two measures together, a pub or drinking establishment can focus on sales of take-away food with deliveries.

While pubs and restaurants are due to re-open from July 4, I hope that these measures will be helpful to existing businesses, given that there is still likely to be nervousness about going out by many people. For those who are looking to re-open with new takeaway and delivery services, PWA can help notify the relevant authority and check the planning history of buildings for specific restrictions.

Pop-up eateries and outside seating

Temporary measures already exist for the change of use of shops, financial and professional services, and restaurants to create ‘pop-up’ restaurants. However, this excludes drinking establishments.

We are keeping abreast of all planning news and can certainly advise clients who are looking to create pop-up commercial development or introduce external seating areas so that customers can feel safe, while making the most of the summer season.

Planning applications and decisions

The government planning guidance for coronavirus also sets out measures to keep planning authorities determining applications within their normal time limits. The quality of services from local planning authorities has varied and, early on, this largely depended upon how ready they were to have staff working from home.

However, most authorities are largely back up and running. We have had plenty of applications accepted and permissions granted. Moreover, most have accepted the challenge of hosting virtual planning committee meetings, which have so far proven to be very successful. It all gives us confidence that we can continue to deliver an effective service, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with your planning requirements.

If you have any planning questions around coronavirus and business recovery, contact Matt for more information on 01772 369669.