Calls for government to issue planning guidance amid pandemic

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Planning guidance,Royal Town Planning Institute

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has called on the government to issue planning guidance to prevent delays to development and knock-on effects to the economy further down the line

The RTPI said guidance on a range of challenges, including planning permission durations, site visits, site notices, communication with stakeholders and transparent decision-making was urgently needed.

Victoria Hills, chief executive, said the RTPI is working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to ensure the appropriate guidance is given to English planners. RTPI directors in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland are having similar conversations with their governments.

Survey findings

More than 1,000 of the RTPI’s 25,000 members responded to the survey, which was sent out at the beginning of April.

70% of respondents said delays to the system were their main concern about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the efficient functioning of the planning system.

More than 96% of respondents said they had moved to remote working, while 65% have closed their offices completely. More than half of respondents (52%) favoured digital hearings, inquiries, local review bodies and plan examinations.

But while most respondents (71%) said their IT systems had adapted well to remote working, fewer than half (41%) said they worked well when liaising with stakeholders and just 26% felt they were effective for public consultations.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (63%) said schemes of delegation should be changed to enable planning officers to make decisions during the crisis, while 64% said delegated powers should be introduced to cover a wide range of decisions.

Half of respondents (49%) said rules should be relaxed relating to public access to hard copy documents and 40% said there requirements around pre-application consultation in person should also be relaxed.

More than a third said housing delivery targets for 2020 should be reduced and extension of permissions by notice not application should be allowed.

Embrace new methods of working

The RTPI is urging local authorities to adopt new ways of working practises during the lockdown to maximise efficiencies in the future and enable more joined-up working between planning authorities and better outcomes for the environment.

The RTPI will be producing a report with further analysis from its member survey which will also build on its evolving sharing experiences document in due course. In June the Institute will publish a paper examining the long-term implications for planning after COVID-19.

Knock-on effect on the economy

Chief executive Victoria Hills said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that there will continue to be wide-ranging economic and social impacts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many planners are rightly concerned that a lack of clarification from central government on key aspects of the planning system is delaying planning processes.

“To facilitate the continuation of the planning function the government must issue urgent guidance on areas including planning permission extensions, alternative arrangements for site notices and schemes of delegation.”

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