Category: Opinions | April 23, 2020
In early April, regulations were drawn up to change the time, frequency and location of all local authorities planning meetings so as to allow for local governance to become virtual. Across London, there have been differing responses. Some councils, such as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, have set up virtual committee meetings and are making decisions very quickly. Others are struggling, many with woefully lacking IT infrastructure to support even basic home-working, and others have abandoned planning decisions which will result in blockages. The hope is that the first councils to embrace virtual meetings will provide best practice to encourage and support the rest.
Meanwhile, the Planning Inspectorate has suspended all examinations, hearings, inquiries and site visits until further notice, but it is looking at using video conferencing to enable proceedings to continue. Trials begin end of April. There will of course be a backlog of cases and new appeals are unlikely to be processed quickly, but the hope is that alternative measures will be put in place as soon as possible. Written appeals are continuing though with some impact on time periods for determination.
Public participation still needs to take place and one body, Civic Voice, is seeking to ensure that communities are engaged in the planning process from the outset so the new rules do not make it much harder for communities to share views and that there is proper scrutiny.
Local authorities and developers must ensure that this continues, to remove any chance for judicial review arising from accusations of lack of public participation. There is unlikely to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, so it will be interesting to review how local authorities are adapting to the new legislation. It is vital that local authorities continue to provide the best service and innovate to prioritise decision-making to keep the planning system going – especially where it benefits the local and national economy. Local authorities cannot simply put business on hold until further notice and abandon any real democratic scrutiny of their decision-making.
Original Article by Martha Grekos in Property Week