As outlined in our recent updates, the Government has made several expedient changes to the planning regime as part of its response to the Coronavirus pandemic. The latest, The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Coronavirus) (England) (Amendment) Order 2020, which came into force on 9 April 2020, allows local authorities and certain healthcare providers in England to develop care facilities on land owned, occupied, leased or maintained by them without the need for planning permission. Similar powers have also been introduced in Wales.

In the last few weeks, we have seen conference centres across the country, including the Excel Centre in London and the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, become NHS Nightingale hospitals. Other land and buildings commandeered to respond to the pandemic include Tottenham Hotspurs’ stadium, which now hosts maternity and antenatal services for local residents and Covid-19 testing for NHS staff. The new instrument provides broad powers for local authorities and health care providers to develop further sites and aims to limit the cost and time burden of applying for planning permission. There is no application process for this, those making use of the new powers are required to notify the local planning authority by email or in writing as soon as possible after commencing.

Although the permitted development rights must be in response to an emergency defined as “an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare”, what response is required is left to the judgement of local authorities and health care bodies. General permitted development now includes the change of use of existing buildings or construction of temporary buildings to provide services such as additional hospital space, Covid-19 testing services, coroner facilities, mortuaries and storage and distribution facilities. The order also allows for change of use, for example, hotels can now be used to provide temporary accommodation for NHS staff, volunteers and the homeless without the need to apply for planning permission.

It is important to note that the permitted development rights are temporary and a planning application will be required for any sites still in use after 31 December 2020. Those sites that have changed use can revert back to their original lawful use at that date. A further statutory instrument will be required to extend the date into 2021.

It remains to be seen whether the Coronavirus pandemic will have an impact on existing and future planning applications for health and care facilities. One care home provider, New Care, in Wilmslow, Cheshire is resubmitting a planning application for a 60-bed care home which was previously refused. Citing how the Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of social care and shortage of care facilities, New Care has urged the local planning authority to reconsider their application without proceeding to a lengthy appeal. How the authority will respond to that request will be very interesting – watch this space.