Yesterday, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published the Business and Planning Bill 2019-2020 and supporting guidance. This is not the fundamental reform to the planning system that we have been told to expect; rather the Bill contains largely temporary measures to “support the transition from immediate [Covid-19] crisis response and lockdown into recovery and getting the economy moving again”.
Planning appeals procedure
With one exception, the planning measures in the Bill are Covid-19 related and temporary. The exception relates to planning appeals, expanding the number of appeals methods that can be used from either written representations, hearing or formal inquiry to a combination of all three as the Secretary of State deems appropriate. This change is permanent, and is in line with recommendations of the Rosewell Review rather than arising solely in response to difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, bringing this forward now will help to speed up the appeals system and is welcome following delays due to Covid-19 emergency measures.
Life of planning permissions extended
The Bill temporarily extends the life of planning permissions and listed buildings consents due to expire during the Covid-19 emergency in response to “strong consensus across the industry and local planning authorities that unimplemented planning permissions should be extended to enable planned developments to be commenced over the next year”. These provisions are simple in concept although more complicated in execution. Essentially, planning permissions which will expire between the date of the relevant section of the Business and Planning Act coming into force and 31 December 2020 are extended to 1 April 2021. There is an additional level of detail for outline permissions – deadlines for applications for approval of reserved matters are extended as well as commencement deadlines. Measures are also introduced to save permissions that expired between lockdown on 23 March 2020 and the coming into force of the Business and Planning Act – these permissions can be “saved” by applying to the local planning authority (LPA) for an “additional environmental approval”, which will then need to be commenced before 1 April 2021.
Construction working hours
Developers can apply to the LPA to allow construction activities to be carried on for longer periods than authorised by a planning permission and on days not previously authorised. The application must give at least 14 days’ notice ahead of the intended date of change (excluding bank holidays, Christmas Day and Good Friday), and any agreed modification must cease to have effect no later than 1 April 2021.
Inspection of the London Plan
The Bill removes the requirement that the London Plan has to be available for physical inspection or copies supplied if an electronic copy is made available instead. These changes in publicity requirements will expire on 31 December 2020. Guidance also asks the GLA to consider how members of the community who can’t access the London Plan by electronic means are not unduly prejudiced, suggesting that the GLA could consider “making arrangements with representative groups” or providing information by telephone or in writing if there is no alternative.
Finally, of interest to owners and occupiers preparing themselves for businesses re-opening for trade from 4 July 2020 onwards, the Bill also introduces a new expedited process for applications for pavement licences.
MPs are due to consider all stages of the Bill in one day next Monday, 29 June 2020, following which we can expect the Business and Planning Act 2020 to come into force without undue delay. In the meantime, we continue to anticipate an announcement on the wider reform to the planning system that we have been promised.
 See the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill.
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