Responding to Covid – 19 – temporary measures to ease restrictions on the planning system
Today the Government has introduced the Business and Planning Bill in Parliament. The Bill responds to the Covid-19 emergency and brings forward temporary changes to the planning system to support economic recovery. This statement sets out supporting temporary measures that the Government proposes to ensure the planning system continues to operate effectively.
Online inspection of documents
The effects of Covid-19 mean that it is not possible for everyone to enter public buildings safely to access certain planning documents made available for inspection. The Government has made clear [Written Ministerial Statement, 13 May 2020 ‘Virtual working and planning – Responding to Covid – 19 Restrictions’] that online inspection of documents should be the default position. It has already made secondary legislation providing temporary flexibility for consultation and publicity requirements for planning applications under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (TCPA) and for Environmental Impact Assessment development under the TCPA in relation to environmental statements.
This statement makes clear, for the regimes addressed below, how the Government expects local authorities, applicants and the Mayor of London to meet the requirements for making documents available for inspection by the public whilst social distancing restrictions apply. Everyone involved in the planning process is expected to engage proactively in the move to online inspection of documents and to consider the practical measures needed to ensure fair participation. When it becomes possible for documents to be made available for inspection in public buildings again, then the Government expects this to be done as soon as practicable.
Compulsory purchase orders (CPOs)
There are requirements in the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 for newspaper and site notices to provide details of a place where copies of CPOs and associated maps can be inspected, both prior to submission of the CPO to the confirming authority and when it is confirmed. Provisions in secondary legislation requiring inspection of documents are similar, and in some cases require documents to be provided on request. It is the Government’s view that these legislative requirements can be satisfied by the acquiring authority making a copy of the order and map available for inspection on a website. Hard copies of documents should be provided by the acquiring authority on request. The Government has published updated planning guidance in relation to the compulsory purchase process which can be viewed at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-compulsory-purchase-guidance.
Development consent orders (DCOs)
The Planning Act 2008, relating to Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP), requires that at the pre-application stage the Statement of Community Consultation must be made available for inspection. At the post-consent stage, where a Development Consent Order grants authority to acquire compulsorily an interest in land, the Act requires that a copy of the DCO must be made available for inspection.
It is the Government’s view that these requirements can be met by making documents available for inspection online. It expects applicants to take reasonable steps to ensure that anyone wishing to view the documentation can find these documents online. Hard copies should be made available by the applicant on request.
For the NSIP regime there are other provisions in secondary legislation relating to consultation and publicity requirements. The Government intends to bring forward secondary legislation shortly to replace temporarily the requirement for documents to be made available for inspection in a place, with a requirement for documents to be made available online.
For planning appeals there are provisions in secondary legislation for consultation and publicity requirements, and the Government is considering whether these should be amended to enable more to be undertaken by digital processes, similar to the flexibilities already brought in for planning applications under the TCPA. The Government expects local planning authorities, appellants, the Planning Inspectorate and other parties to be proactive in their use of digital processes for consultation and publicity.
Local development documents
When preparing Local Development Documents, local planning authorities are required to make certain documents available for inspection at their principal office, and other places that they consider appropriate, and provide copies of the plan or strategy to a person that requests one. In addition, local planning authorities must publish the document on their website. The Government intends to bring forward secondary legislation shortly to remove temporarily the requirement for local planning authorities to make these documents available for inspection at their offices and other places, as well as the requirement for these documents to be provided on request. Local planning authorities will need to ensure that these documents are made available on their website.
Spatial development strategies
The Business and Planning Bill amends the provisions in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 that require the Mayor of London to make the Spatial Development Strategy (SDS) available for physical inspection at certain locations and to provide a copy on request.
The Bill will remove these requirements provided that the Mayor makes the current SDS available by appropriate electronic means. The Mayor will be required to have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State on arrangements that may be appropriate for those who do not have internet access.
There are also similar provisions in secondary legislation that apply for the Mayor of London and combined authorities who have been conferred the power to make a spatial development strategy. The Government intends to bring forward secondary legislation shortly to temporarily disapply requirements for these documents to be made available for inspection at their offices and enable them to be made available online.
Extending development consents
The Business and Planning Bill includes a provision to extend certain planning permissions and consents under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. There are already established routes to make changes to DCOs and it is the Government’s view that these routes can be used to extend commencement periods in certain circumstances. Developers can submit applications for non-material or material changes to the relevant Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can also make a material change to a DCO in exceptional circumstances. The Government expects developers to take proactive steps to ensure that applications to extend DCOs are submitted in sufficient time and the Government will actively engage with any such applications.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords