The government has finally taken the steps needed to start bringing the planning system into the 21st Century, enabling “remote committee meetings” for the first time, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Certain types of planning applications must be determined by a local planning authority’s planning committee, but to date the meetings of these committees have been required to take place in person. Members of the public are entitled to attend (again in person), and documents associated with such committees (e.g. the agenda, committee reports etc.) were to be made available at the authority’s offices. As you can imagine, this has been causing some headaches with the government’s recent lockdown measures.
However, to deal with this, the recently enacted Coronavirus Act 2020 enabled the Secretary of State to make regulations to make provisions about the way in which people could attend and participate in meetings, and the availability of documents to members of the public. After some disquiet that the government had only done half the job in the Act, these regulations have finally been made; they come into effect on 4 April 2020 and apply to local authority meetings that are required to be held, or are held, before 7 May 2021.
Accordingly, local authority meetings (including planning committees) can now be attended by members remotely and, where such meetings are to be open to the public, the public can do the same. Relevant documents can also be published on the authority’s website, and the requirements for local authorities and the GLA to hold annual meetings are disapplied with greater flexibility given to the GLA in respect of certain other meetings. There are still some practical concerns about how these meetings will be hosted, and in particular the manner in which members of the public will be able to participate – although the industry is keen for determinations to continue this must not be at the expense of certainty and a greater risk of legal challenge – but it is clearly a positive step towards keeping the planning system moving.
And whilst these measures are only temporary, if they are successful, there is now hope that the government will look to make them permanent in a bid to speed up the planning process going forward.
For material that will help you run your business, as well as details of our business continuity planning, our COVID-19 Topic Centre houses all of our resources on the topic – from crisis leadership to supply chain.
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