Nearly 70% of respondents to a Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) survey said system delays were their main concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the efficient functioning of the planning system.
The RTPI says that guidance is needed for challenges including planning permission durations, site visits, site notices, communication with stakeholders and transparent decision-making, to prevent unnecessary delays to development and knock-on effects to the economy further down the line.
Its chief executive Victoria Hills said it is working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to ensure the appropriate guidance is given to English planners, while RTPI directors in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland are having conversations with their governments.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that there will continue to be wide-ranging economic and social impacts as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” she said.
“Many planners are rightly concerned that a lack of clarification from central government on key aspects of the planning system is delaying planning processes. This will inevitably have knock-on effects on development and thus the economy into the future.
“To facilitate the continuation of the planning function the government must issue urgent guidance on areas including planning permission extensions, alternative arrangements for site notices and schemes of delegation.”
The Coronavirus Act 2020, which came into force on 26 March, included regulations allowing all local authority meetings before 7 May 2021 to be held remotely and removing the requirement for the annual meeting this year, but Hills said this falls short of what is needed.
More than 1,000 members responded to the survey, sent out in April and over 96% said they had moved to remote working, while 65% closed their offices completely. Over half (52%) favoured digital hearings, inquiries, local review bodies and plan examinations. However, while 71% said their IT systems had adapted well to remote working and 41% said they worked well when liaising with stakeholders, just 26% felt they were effective for public consultations.
More than a third said housing delivery targets for 2020 should be reduced. Many said the reduction of pollution and cleaner air seen during the lockdown should be an opportunity to adopt better practices in the future to achieve net zero targets.
Hills urged local authorities to assess whether new ways of working adopted during the lockdown could continue in order to maximise efficiencies in the future and enable more collaborative working between planning authorities.
The RTPI will be producing a report with further analysis from its member survey which will also build on its evolving sharing experiences document. It is also planning to publish a paper examining the long-term implications for planning after COVID-19.