Decisions, decisions: how does planning work during the pandemic?
The Covid-19 crisis has curtailed public involvement in almost all aspects of life, so it is important for us all to see that fairness and the democratic process do not suffer as a result, as a CPRE planner explains…
Are you still getting your say at planning committee?
Since Saturday, April 4, 2020, councils have been able to hold public meetings virtually – using video or telephone conferencing technology – hence removing the requirement for physical attendance at meetings.
The decision was announced by Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to in a bid to ensure effective local decision-making and transparency during the coronavirus pandemic.
Did you know that not all planning (and other) applications must go before councillors at a committee meeting?
Under the 1972 Local Government Act, local planning authorities can discharge some decision-making to an officer – in the case of planning applications this is what is commonly known as a delegated decision.
Planning permission can still be granted (or refused) for individual schemes. The only difference is that, compared with a committee decision, the process is faster because there is no need to wait until the next planning committee comes round.
As it is up to individual councils to draw up their own delegation scheme, decisions that can be delegated in one authority may not in another.
Unless a local planning authority has changed its delegated scheme, all planning decisions that would normally have gone to a planning committee continue to do so.
While the decision-making format will not have changed, it is possible that meetings may have been cancelled in the early days while councils made the necessary arrangements to move committee meetings online.
It might not be the same for all councils, but I know one Kent authority minutes at the beginning of each session that meetings are being conducted in accordance with the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panel (Coronavirus) Flexibility of Local Authority Police and Crime Panel Meetings (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 No. 392.
And that in welcoming councillors and members of the public the chairman states which council officers are in attendance.
The procedure for my local council is that members of the public are advised in the normal way of the committee date for schemes in which they are interested. As usual, the procedure for speaking at committee is explained. In accordance with the regulations, interested parties are invited to dial in to the meeting and, where pre-arranged, get to speak for their allotted time.
In addition, participants are asked to provide a written copy of the statement they wish to make so that in the event of technical difficulties their views can be read out.
At this specific council, members of the public can not actually see what is going on at the meeting (they dial in by phone). Any papers that are likely to be viewed by councillors at the meeting are added to the council’s website in advance.
Audio recordings of the meetings held are posted on the council’s website within 10 days of the meeting.