On Thursday 2 April 2020, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, put in place regulations designed to aid planning committees during Coronavirus, ensuring local authorities will be able to continue to function in light of the current crisis. Coming into force over the weekend and lasting through to 7 May 2021.
This Statutory Instrument, overrides the 1972 Local Government Act which requires councillors to be physically present to decide applications. Planning Committees will now be able to hold meetings remotely including, via telephone conferencing, video conferencing and live webcasts. Though a seemingly rather simple solution, a number of pitfalls await local authorities going forward. One issue is how will councils provide network accessibility to those members of the public wishing to express their right to speak in front of the committee, but lack the technological apparatus to do so already? Will the councils have to provide this equipment to the participants? Another hurdle will be providing suitable training for committee members in using the technology as this will only be able to be provided remotely and may take some time to complete.
My argument would be that this SI represents a great opportunity for the planning system. Though born out of necessity, these changes will drag the antiquated and inflexible planning system into the 21st Century. But it will take time to establish and cases are already building up waiting for committee. Therefore, I would encourage more local authorities to take a leaf out of Manchester’s book and delegate power to the chief exec or head of planning until functioning remote planning committees can be provided.
Kristy Castle, Partner Planning, Batcheller Monkhouse.
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