Delving into the impact that the outbreak will have on planners, Jonathan Bainbridge and Nigel Hawkey, planning partners at Bidwells, expect that planning committees will have to shrink or become virtual.
While it is expected that this new way of working could continue for well over a year, several authorities are now also giving officers significant powers of delegation, such as The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead and Norwich City Council. Where an application would previously have gone to Committee, officers will have to consult with the Chair or Vice Chair and, if they agree with the recommendation, or are unable to be consulted, then the application can be determined by officers. Use of processes such as this will become more widespread.
We should point out that this is important because political oversight of the planning process is supposed to prevent corruption by local authority officers. In practice in some parts of the UK it has been the elected officials who have been corrupt and have forced through planning applications on behalf of local businessmen.
Many sites under construction, or with outline planning permission, condition deadlines might be missed because of the pandemic. Bidwells is lobbying Government to seek a moratorium of at least six months on all such deadlines, to try and mitigate the impact.
Furthermore, with sites closing and work halting, there will be an increased shortage of homes, including affordable and key worker accommodation. This will affect future housing delivery test figures.
Greater use of online or virtual public consultations could also become the new standard, although great care will be needed not to alienate those who are less confident with modern technology, or do not have access to it.
Greater use of digital technology in planning must be the way forward and will surely be one of the enduring legacies from the COVID-19 crisis, Bainbridge and Hawkey said.