The below article was released on Wednesday 17 June, prior to the government announcement on the 22 June.

It has now been over three months since lockdown began and the Prime Minister announced restrictive measures on personal movement, and the country has adapted with considerable dexterity to a new way of life, albeit some restrictions are now being lifted. Most offices have been shut and those members of the workforce who can work from home are doing so and are urged to continue for the foreseeable future.

However, some businesses are returning to work, mainly those whose staff cannot sensibly work from home, or where there is a physical impossibility, such as in the case of construction activities. This may represent ‘baby steps’ at present, as businesses contemplate the economic impact of the pandemic and how their respective markets will have been impacted, but over time we will all be expected to try and get back to the world we were used to, or something approaching it, with social distancing a central feature.

Our Planning & Development teams across the country have been working remotely since lockdown and have been able to observe, at close quarters, how the planning system has adapted, or is adapting, to the changed circumstances.

While we applaud our industry for its flexibility and willingness to meet new challenges imposed by COVID-19, we also recognise that the Government should take immediate further action to aid processes. Below we have outlined our thoughts.

The planning industry’s response so far to COVID-19

Overall, we would conclude that positive flexibility has been shown and that all parties have been willing to ‘do their bit’ to ensure that the ‘planning wheels’ have kept turning. In no specific order, we would highlight the following progressive measures:

  • The ability to ensure that engagement with local authorities and other statutory bodies can continue and is ‘business as usual’ because of utilising videoconferencing facilities for pre-application meetings and more routine discussions.
  • Legislation passed by Government to ensure that planning committee meetings can be held virtually up to 7 May 2021 (The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020).
  • The decision made by some authorities to delegate a greater number of planning applications to chief officers as all become accustomed to virtual committees.
  • Progress made by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) in terms of progressing appeals virtually when hearing sessions are needed and by allowing some decisions to be made without site visits. Also, in ensuring that some Local Plan hearing sessions are held virtually.
  • The ability to publicise applications and EIA development not just by site notice but to rely on web-based applications and on social media.
  • The introduction of time-limited emergency permitted development rights until 31 December 2020 to support service bodies and local authorities’ immediate response to coronavirus.
  • Amendments to the Community Infrastructure Regulations 2010 to enable charging authorities to defer payments of CIL, to temporarily disapply late payment interest and to provide a discretion to return interests where they consider it appropriate to do so. These measures applying to developers with an annual turnover of less than £45 million.
  • Changes to the neighbourhood planning process to support local authorities and to provide some reassurance to communities with neighbourhood plans that are awaiting referendum.
  • The good humoured and collaborative working of all involved in the process, seeking to ensure that sustainable developments are delivered wherever possible and in the shortest timescale possible in these most uncertain times.

 

Further actions we would like to see the Government take

While we have seen the planning industry adapt and evolve over past months, we do suggest that there are a number of ways in which the Government could ‘go further’. We have outlined our thoughts in the hope that our suggestions will be picked up either in immediate legislation or within the Planning White Paper, which is due imminently.

Outlined below, our ‘manifesto’ for further change we would like to see includes not only recommendations that are a direct response to the COVID-19 crisis, but also proposals that simply seem sensible and will aid the planning process in the future.

With the above considered, we suggest that the Government:

Planning permissions have a finite lifespan, and either expire completely if not implemented, or require further submissions by key dates e.g. the lodging of reserved matters. As the development industry adjusts to the new way of life, several projects are being put on hold or are not easily able to commence on site. This may be for funding reasons, to do with market uncertainty or because pre-development conditions cannot be discharged at the speed required to keep projects on track. Our suggestion is that any planning application due to expire or require the submission of reserved matters in the remainder of 2020, should be granted an automatic or deemed 12-month extension.
We suggest a consideration in capping the statutory fees for planning submissions SME, local or regional developers with a turnover below a stipulated level (e.g. £45m as per the CIL amended provisions), with the difference between ‘full fees’ and the reduced fee being topped up by central Government.
We believe that all financial contributions due to be paid for the remainder of 2020 under S106 agreements should be deferred for 12 months for SME, local or regional developers. The Government could step in and provide these funds to local authorities in the short-term and recover them from the applicants on an interest free basis over an agreed period starting in June 2021.
There has been a suggestion in some quarters that these methods of calculating housing delivery should be temporarily abandoned, or else recast to factor in the market implications of the pandemic. We consider that this would not be appropriate as the housing needs of individual local authority areas have not fundamentally changed as a consequence of the pandemic and the plan system after all, is supposed to be flexible and long sighted enough to deal with the peaks and troughs of economic cycles. Previous recessions have not resulted in a change to these calculations. Changing the method of assessing delivery is likely to result in fewer permissions and eventual completions, which should be avoided. This would particularly penalise the people in greatest housing need.

Permitted development rights, which allow the change of use from offices to residential, have resulted in schemes of variable quality, with some unused office buildings not lending themselves to good quality residential refurbishments. Equally, schemes with very small unit sizes have been delivered, which have caused numerous concerns in local authority areas, where poor quality proposals have been advanced. At a time with significant home working, smaller unit sizes may no longer be desirable. We would urge that the Government looks at the whole permitted development procedure and allows comprehensive redevelopment of office sites whilst not saddling developments with overly onerous obligations. This could be a valuable addition to housing supply, especially as the demand for office space may wane.

With a number of major retail businesses failing, it is apparent that the high street and town centres are going to take on a very different role in the future. This suggests there is going to be a pressing need to re-purpose high streets and town centres and therefore a more flexible approach to the use of (former) retail space will be required. This could include residential uses, food and drink uses, leisure uses and cultural uses.
There has been a lot of recent evidence of Local Plan let-down on account of failure to discharge ‘Duty to Cooperate’ requirements. We consider that the Government should take the opportunity to produce clearer step-by-step guidance on the minimum requirements for Councils and, what they should publish in advance of an Examination in Public. While we consider it would be much better to go back to the old plan-making system (where Local Plans were assumed to be sound and it was for the development industry and planning agents to argue the case for new sites being included) - with a clear regional distribution of housing numbers established – we are realistic enough to know that is unlikely. The best we can hope for is an improved system under the Duty to Cooperate, as recent failures have confirmed why the system is wrong.
In the context of the pandemic, there are question marks around the extent to which urban densities should continue to grow inexorably, and that lower density developments may be a more logical policy choice. However, in many of the cities in which our planning professionals operate - London, Cambridge, Oxford, and Leeds - the low density expansion of cities with generous open space provision and sustainable transport options is being prevented by Green Belt designations which reflect policy initially drafted back in the 1930’s, when the country was very different to what it is today. We consider it is time to overhaul such policy and address development needs in a more rounded way than is evident at present.

We firmly believe new legislation and fresh momentum is required to aid the nation’s economic recovery, and some measures previously thought to be ‘no go areas’ must now be embraced openly.

In 1947 the Government of the day passed the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act to aid the post-war recovery. The current pandemic, different though it is, requires an equally robust policy response so that we can get the country moving forward once again.

For further information, or to speak directly to one of our Planning & Development professionals, please contact us.

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Nick is a chartered town planner and development surveyor with over 25 years' experience, gained across the residential, commercial, retail and industrial sectors for corporate, institutional and private landowners and developers. He has worked at CBRE and Drivers Jonas Deloitte. His professional experience is in three main sectors – Strategic Land / Projects, Retail / Mixed-Use and Central London. Strategic Projects / Land involves the promotion of land for commercial and residential development for landowners and developers. Retail / Mixed-Use schemes are a blend of edge of centre and town centre mixed-use schemes with food stores and other uses, often residential. This sector includes regeneration and waterside schemes. Central London focuses on projects from Canary Wharf to Hammersmith and Camden down to Wandsworth, Southwark and Lambeth.

When he isn’t working, Nick can be found playing golf (increasingly badly) and spending time re-stocking and emptying his wine cellar to indulge his passion for wine.

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Jon leads the Carter Jonas London development team, providing strategic development advice, feasibility and viability studies, acquisition, disposal and marketing advice and advice on structuring and procuring development partnerships. He has 30 years’ experience, working initially in local government and then in consultancy at Donaldsons, Knight Frank and GL Hearn.

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John is Head of the Leeds office and the Planning & Development Team North. John advises clients on proposed development projects throughout the North of England.  He has over 30 years’ experience in residential and commercial development acting for private, corporate, institutional, charity and public sector clients.

This includes site identification, project management of planning and development strategies, valuation and viability appraisals, marketing and sale of development opportunities.

John has specific expertise in Options, Promotional Agreements, Joint Ventures and Conditional Contracts, acting mainly for landowners.  John has been involved in projects such as new settlements, to city centre regeneration, provincial sites, large commercial developments and site sales.

The Development Agency team are currently instructed on 6,500 acres in 150 locations across the North West, Yorkshire and the North East.

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Simon is the Partner who heads up our planning team in the North and is based in our Leeds office. The Planning North team is based in Leeds and Harrogate and also operates through the Carter Jonas York, Boroughbridge and Kendal offices and working in close partnership with the Development Agency team and other agency colleagues across the region.

His 30 year career spans both public and private sectors. Simon has a strong background in planning project management and has successfully led development project teams on many occasions since becoming a planning consultant in 2003. His experience covers a full range of property sectors and development types including redevelopment of general housing site promotion, large public sector sites, education, high density and student housing, investment portfolio review, large scale mixed use development, major industrial, employment and retail proposals and leisure/hotel schemes.

Simon is an active member of the Home Builders Federation and York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Areas of expertise include:

•           Strategic planning advice for major, complex and high profile sites and development proposals  
•           Strong understanding of inter-related planning and market issues
•           Negotiation of Heads of Terms for Section 106 Agreements
•           Portfolio review and due diligence assessment
•           Development promotion through planning applications, appeals and development plans
•           Direction of heritage-related projects EIA development proposals
•           Provision of expert witness evidence to public inquiries and hearings   

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James is Chairman of Carter Jonas.  Formerly Head of the Planning & Development Division, James advises clients on proposed development projects throughout the south of England with nearly 30 years of experience in residential and mixed use development.  This includes site identification, project management of planning and development strategies, valuation and viability appraisals, marketing and sale of development opportunities. He has specific expertise in option, promotion and other development agreements, joint ventures and landowner equalisation agreements. James has been involved in sites ranging from new settlements to city centre regeneration and smaller provincial and rural schemes, and also provides expert witness and independent expert valuation services for dispute resolution.

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Colin is a Partner and was appointed Head of Planning & Development Division in November 2020, he is based out of our Cambridge office.  He has over 25 years’ experience of planning consultancy and has a broad sphere of work.  He acts for a wide range of private, institutional and developer clients and has worked on significant planning applications and appeals.

He regularly instructs Counsel, and has appeared at a number of Local Plan examinations and in Section 78 and other appeals where he has often given evidence.  He carries out much land promotion work and has a strong track record of delivering planning consents taking projects through their entire process from site identification to construction on site.  

Away from work, Colin is Chairman of the Cambridge Forum for the Construction Industry and of the Cambridge branch of networking group, Interact.  He is also Chairman of the Dining Rights Committee at the Hawks’ Club, a sporting club in the City for Cambridge University sportsmen. He is a regular, if poor golfer, a keen cyclist and a committed, but somewhat less dangerous skier than he once was.

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Matthew has acted for a wide number of Landowner Clients including:

  • Royal Estate Sandringham
  • Crown Point Estate
  • Cecil Family Trust
  • Greene King Plc
  • North Hertfordshire College
  • Cemex
  • May Gurney
  • Pigeon
  • Advice, marketing, disposal and additional tranche disposal of 1,500 unit Residential Development in Grantham.

Project team principle for disposal of the NHC Centre of the Arts, Hitchin, securing a Development Partner and assembling a professional team to progress an application, sale and disposal of a principal asset within the College’s portfolio 

Mathew has over 29 years' experience in the property industry and has been directly involved Residential Development in East Anglia since 1998. He specialises in Land Disposals and Acquisition; Strategic Land, Promotion and Option Agreements. He has acted for a wide range of private and public sector land owners companies including Greene King, Royal Estate Sandringham; Grant Thornton, Pigeon, Crown Point Estate, Cemex (formerly RMC), The Diocese of Norfolk & Norwich and North Hertfordshire College as well as private land owners across the region.

He is Head of Residential Development at the Cambridge Office.

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Steven is Partner and Head of Planning Southern Region and is based in our Oxford office.

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