As the planning industry adapts to working remotely, we are pleased to see that planning applications are still progressing. In this blog, authored by my colleague Anna Coyle, she looks at recent developments. 

Whilst not quite business as usual, local authorities appear to be complying with the Business Secretary’s appeal to “stay calm and carry on”, with case officers and in-house planning solicitors largely working seamlessly from home.

Performance targets for speed and quality are still in place, and Councils are being encouraged to validate all applications promptly in order to be able to prioritise applications that are aimed at combatting the virus (e.g. temporary hospitals). Local authority services are likely to be under increasing pressure, however, and Councils will look to prioritise those applications that it considers most important if resource is limited. Planning officers and solicitors can be considered key workers but this is a matter for the Council to decide, and we may also see planners being redeployed to work on more urgent services.

We are experiencing delays in the execution and completion of planning agreements. In particular, where Councils are unable to seal documents remotely, this presents a considerable challenge. This is an issue that may cause significant delay to the issuing of planning permissions where planning obligations are required. We are working with local authorities to understand the extent of the practical issues while offices are closed and explore solutions.

As we wrote last week, various legislative measures to provide flexibility have been promised but more needs to be done. England appears to be lagging behind Scotland in this respect, as developers and industry bodies urge the Government in Westminster to follow Scotland's lead and allow the automatic extension of planning permissions that will expire during the next six months. Amendments to the Development Management Procedure Order to temporarily relax requirements in relation to publicity and site notices are also called for. Scotland have already made provision for some publication requirements to be relaxed, and are exploring the position in relation to site notices.

We will continue to monitor any further changes to legislative provisions and provide updates.