The Royal Town Planning Institute has broadly welcomed the government’s latest plans to help keep the planning sector in England moving, but has warned that more still needs to be done.
In a statement on Wednesday morning (13 May), Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Robert Jenrick, announced that local planning authorities would be allowed to publicise planning applications through social media instead of having to rely on site notices and leaflets and that they would be given more flexibility to support developers by allowing them to defer Community Infrastructure Levy payments.
Chief executive of the RTPI, Victoria Hills, said these were ‘positive and pragmatic steps to keep development moving’ but she called on MHCLG to go further by also issuing guidance on site visits and addressing the need for extended planning permissions.
She said: “An RTPI survey conducted at the beginning of lockdown revealed that the majority of our members were overwhelmingly concerned with ensuring planning continues to deliver during the pandemic, with the majority supporting the use of digital hearings, inquiries and local review bodies and plan examinations. So, on that basis, we welcome the government’s latest announcements which will ensure this.
“However, we remain concerned that the issue of planning permissions due to expire during the lockdown has not yet been addressed. We have repeatedly called for this to be urgently addressed and repeat that call now. Our members have also said they require further guidance on site visits.”
She also called for a sensible approach to dealing with the determination timescales for planning applications in light of the government’s decision that these will not be changed.
“We welcome a pragmatic approach that avoids unfairly penalising local planning authorities working under extremely challenging circumstances. Harsh penalties at this time would seem counter-productive,” she said.
She welcomed the government’s recognition of the innovative approach taken by many planning authorities, as well as the commitment and flexibility shown by those in the planning system and added that it was encouraging to see that MHCLG was working with the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) to share best practice on the profession’s learnings on holding virtual planning committees, following regulations allowing this which were passed at the beginning of April.
On Friday, the RTPI will publish two reports focusing on the planning sector’s immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic.