Services affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Planning

The planning service relies on a number of prepared letters, emails and other notifications. Given the speed of change, it has not been possible to update all of these documents, so they may refer to ways of working which have been temporary suspended or changed. The keys changes in our working practices are captured below in these FAQs.

General operational information

Is the planning service still operating?

Yes. We are trying hard to keep the planning service operating effectively in the face of unprecedented challenges. We are continuing to respond and bring forward different ways of working as quickly as possible. Please bear with us whilst we put plans in place – we will continue to update the website as often as we can.

Will officers continue to be contactable?

There is no planning officer presence in our offices. Most officers are enabled for home working and are therefore contactable from home by emailing the planning team.

We are not providing any face-to-face meetings at this time and not all officers have work mobile phones. If matters cannot be resolved via email and a phone conversation is necessary, if your provide contact details, then officers can call you on a number with-held basis. However, please be mindful that many officers are balancing work with caring responsibilities and therefore may not be working normal office hours at this time.

Are the council offices still open to the public?

No, not at the present time. Our offices are closed to the public to ensure the safety of our staff and our residents.

Are you determining planning applications? Are officers still undertaking site visits?

We are able to still determine some planning applications. We are however currently focusing on determining applications where we have already visited the site and have all the relevant information to inform decision-making. We are carrying out some site visits but only following a risk based analysis. However we will keep this matter under review. We may be able to determine some applications without a site visit, in limited cases, but in the event that a site visit is necessary to fully assess the proposals, we will work with the applicant to agree a suitable extension of time for the application and to explore other means whereby we can gain an understanding of the site and the proposal.

Will my application take longer?

It is likely that there will be some delays as we are working under very different and difficult circumstances. Please bear with us while we introduce new processes for validating and determining applications as we are working remotely with limited travel. Furthermore, despite our best efforts to keep our staff safe and working at home, there is a risk that we might experience increased levels of sickness. Therefore, we will be asking applicants and agents for extensions of time on applications where necessary.

Commenting on a planning application

I am self-isolating and want to comment on a planning application but have no access to email or the internet. How can I comment as I can’t go out to post a letter?

The best way to send us your comments is to ask a relative or friend to email us your comments or to submit them online.

Planning officers take issues into account (as long as they are material planning considerations) regardless of the sender.

Can I send my comments on a planning application by post?

At this time we have very limited office cover, which could change to no office cover in time. So there is likely to be a delay in the officers receiving any comments sent by post. There is also a risk that any hard copy letters posted to us since the 24 March 2020 might not be taken into account. If you cannot submit comments online, then please contact our technical support team on 01543 308179.

How will I know about a planning proposal that may affect me?

Planning applications will be available on the online planning register and advertised in the local press (when publication occurs) in the normal way. However, we are not displaying a site notice for the majority of planning applications at present, but will continue to send neighbour notifications to residents abutting a site. The minimum publicity as set out in planning legislation only requires either a site notice or a neighbour notification for most types of applications. However, a site notice will be required for certain applications i.e. for development affecting a public right of way; listed building or character of a conservation area; development representing a departure from the development plan; or applications for EIA development accompanied by an environmental statement. For these types of applications, we will post a site notice to applicants to display or agree an extension of time until travel restrictions have ended.

How can I find out about a planning proposal if the site is not adjoining my property?

You can register to receive alerts by email for planning applications in your area registering with our planning site and then tracking the applications you wish to see alerts about.

Planning committees and other meetings

Will planning committees take place?

We have cancelled our April planning committee and we are considering the position with regard to subsequent meetings.

In terms of planning proposals that would have otherwise been considered at committee, we are undertaking a review of our scheme of delegation at this time in line with government guidance to reduce the number of applications that would need to be considered. New processes will be put in place in respect of this once agreed. Applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis and the risk of an appeal for non-determination will need to be taken into account. Applicants will be informed of this process and their views will be considered.

Can you hold virtual planning committees?

The government has recently introduced regulations to allow committee meetings to be held without the physical attendance of all parties. The detail of the regulations is currently being reviewed by officers to explore ways that this can be enabled. There are many issues to consider in this respect including from the technology to be used to the capacity and availability of staff to run these during this time of crisis. However, this is being looked at as a matter of urgency.

Are conference calls available with no face-face-meetings happening?

All face-to-face meetings are cancelled. However, officers can arrange meetings by Skype or by telephone. We are looking at how Skype meetings can be arranged with external parties.

Other application types

Will my prior notification request still be determined within the relevant timescales?

The government has recognised that there may be circumstances where a local planning authority is unable to consider permitted development prior approvals within the deemed consent period. We will continue to prioritise these requests but there may be exceptional circumstances which require us to discuss an extended approval date with the applicant. The government has indicated ‘Where agreement cannot be reached, an authority may need to consider whether prior approval is refused if the application cannot be considered with the requisite attention’.

What can I do if my planning permission is about to elapse?

Most applications have a condition which sets out when permission must start. There is generally no requirement controlling when the development must be completed so once you have started work the permission will not lapse. If you are unable to start work and need to submit a new planning application, the existence of an extant planning permission means that this will be a material consideration when assessing your new application, which may make the process of obtaining a new approval simpler. If you intend to commence development within the original time limit, please make sure that any pre-commencement conditions on the permission have been discharged. It will be a matter for government in light of the current COVID-19 situation whether any changes will be made to national legislation and regulations proposing changes to commencement time periods generally.

Pre-applications and other services

Are you still providing pre-application advice?

We will continue to provide advice on whether planning permission is needed, where we are asked online.

For pre-application advice, we are able to provide either a desktop only service or, subject to prior appointment, case officers are available to discuss your scheme with you either by Skype or phone (charged as a pre-application with accompanying site visit).

Can I still get hard copies of information and documents from the planning service?

The additional services of providing hard copies of plans, documents, any planning application forms and the report a breach of planning form are currently suspended.

Can I still get planning history information and other discretionary services?

Although the formal planning history information request service is currently suspended, basic information is available via the property search option on the planning applications webpage. However, we currently only hold digital information from 1997 onward. Should you require a more comprehensive search please email [email protected] and request a local property search. Any existing requests received before the suspension will be put on hold, the enquirer notified of this and the enquiry completed as soon as possible after government movement restrictions are lifted.

Planning enforcement

Are you undertaking planning enforcement?

Yes, but we may not be fully investigating matters where significant harm cannot be demonstrated. Most site visits have been currently suspended, unless in exceptional circumstances. There is new legislation to allow certain temporary changes of use to takeaways. We will also take a pragmatic approach to some developments which are undertaken purely to cope with the impact of COVID-19. We will inform you of our intended course of action when triaging your complaint – the planning enforcement team can be contacted via email: [email protected] or by phone Monday to Thursday on 07815 609346.