This month we asked members:
Are there any practices that planning authorities have developed during the pandemic to help speed up/support the processing of applications that should be kept and can you give an example of how these have improved the planning process?
“Covid-19 has brought with it some significant challenges for both local planning authorities and those promoting planning application schemes, not least around community engagement and decision-making.
“However, looking back over the last six months we have seen local authorities introduce some new approaches, particularly amended schemes of delegation, which have been really helpful in enabling planning applications to move forward without delay. This been particularly helpful for larger schemes which offer significant economic and/or infrastructure benefits and I think there is scope for greater use of delegated powers than we have seen in the past.
“From the applicant perspective, Covid-19 has necessitated a much greater focus on digital consultation and, on the basis of our experience, this has been a resounding success – not only because of much higher levels of community engagement, but because a much broader cross-section of the community have become engaged. This has been a real positive and there is little doubt that digital consultation has a key role to play in the future, even after Covid-19 restrictions have been eased.”
Jonathan Wallace, Senior Director at Lichfields
“The most effective practice introduced by Local Authorities during the pandemic has been the much greater use of delegated powers in decision making. Naturally this was forced by Planning Committee’s initially being unable to sit and was strongly encouraged by Government as a means of ensuring that the planning system didn’t grind to a halt during the early stages of the pandemic. However, the longer term impact seems to be that Authorities are now thinking more carefully about whether an application should genuinely be determined by Planning Committee. We are therefore seeing a higher proportion of applications being determined by professional officers under delegated powers than before the pandemic which not only speeds up the process but also ensures greater levels of consistency in decision making which can only be good for our industry.”
Mark Ketley, Planning Director, BH Planning and Design
“From our experience, although planning authorities have made a great effort to introduce new procedures to enable the planning system to keep moving, I think it would be hard to argue that this has improved the service beyond where we were before the pandemic in terms of efficiency. Increasing delegated powers indefinitely would be welcomed if it helps cut down the agenda at planning committees, speeds up the application process and leads to more consistent decisions. The use of virtual meetings as an accepted means of communication with council officers is also something we would be happy to see continue when we return to a more ‘normal’ way of working. On projects where there are time pressures, we have found virtual meetings to be an effective way to maintain a positive dialogue with the planning authority. Virtual meetings can be arranged at short notice, without the logistical challenges of physically bringing everyone together and the delays this can cause; that is provided all participants have a strong internet connection!”
Richard Morgan, Planning and Development Consultant at youngs RPS