Planning Services – Coronavirus (Covid-19) Update

Planning Service Update

The council not only understands the important role that the Planning System will play in assisting the recovery of the economy following the current period of social isolation, but also the importance of a planning service for smaller scale proposals for individual families and households. The council therefore continues to operate a Development Management (Planning) service but with staff now almost entirely home-based.

This has resulted in some changes to the way in which the service operates and, with the situation constantly evolving. We may need to make further changes in due course; you should revisit this page for further updates.

We have also experienced a spike in casework and all correspondence associated with our work. There may be some delays in getting back to you. Please bear with us: we are working as fast as possible to maintain our services. (UPDATE 24.07.20)

From 22nd July 2020 the Government have introduced new regulations making it possible to apply to defer a CIL payment subject to a number of criteria. For more information please see our page Paying for CIL and COVID-19

As part of the Planning Service approach to supporting businesses and the local economy due to Covid-19 we are introducing a new free fast-track service for businesses that are making changes due to Covid-19 that may require planning permission (e.g. changes to the use of your outdoor space or provision of temporary structures).

  • Government to extend planning permission deadlines, saving hundreds of construction projects’ permissions from expiring
  • Flexible working hours on construction sites to support social distancing, helping people return to work safely
  • New changes could speed up the pace of the planning appeal process

Government has announced new measures to help the construction industry boost building and return to work safely (UPDATE 23 June 2020).

Planning permission deadlines will be extended, planning appeals will be sped up and builders will be allowed more flexible working hours following agreement with their local council.

Planning permission usually expires after three years if work has not started onsite. Sites with consent that have an expiry date between the start of lockdown and the end of this year will now see their consent automatically extended to 1 April 2021. This will prevent work that has been temporarily disrupted by the COVID19 pandemic from stopping altogether.

New guidance has been issued by Government and can be seen online. (UPDATE 6 July 2020)

The government estimates that by the end of this month alone, more than 400 residential permissions providing more than 24,000 new homes would have expired. The new measures will help these developments and more resume as the economy recovers.

New measures will also permanently grant the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) the ability to use more than one procedure – written representations, hearings and inquiries – at the same time when dealing with a planning appeal. This will enable appeals to happen much faster.

Last year a pilot programme tested this approach and implemented recommendations of the Rosewell Review, which more than halved the time taken for appeal inquiries, from 47 weeks to 23 weeks.

This will also help builders to quickly agree more flexible construction site working hours with their local council for a temporary period. This will make it easier to follow public health guidance onsite and by staggering builders’ arrival times.

Further information is available on the Government website.

The Government has introduced new permitted development rights for pubs (Use Class A4) and cafés & restaurants (Use Class A3) to operate solely for any use for the provision of hot or cold food that has been prepared for consumers for collection or delivery to be consumed, reheated or cooked by consumers off the premises (Use Class A5). This right to change the use of premises is time limited for 12 months and expires on 23 March 2021.

You will need to notify the council of this change of use; Please do so by e-mailing planning@wealden.gov.uk providing the address, business name, previous use and contact details. You will receive an acknowledgement from us.

The use of the premises prior to the change of use to food takeaway will be reinstated after the use as a food takeaway has ceased.

In a written ministerial statement on construction, Government has explained how the construction industry may adapt its normal practices to operate safely during this time. It also states that, with immediate effect, local planning authorities should take a “swift and positive approach” to requests from developers and site operators for greater flexibility around construction site working hours. This is to ensure that, where appropriate, planning conditions are not a barrier to allowing developers the flexibility necessary to facilitate the safe operation of construction sites during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to proceed at pace with work otherwise delayed as a result of COVID-19. (UPDATE 15.5.20)

The Government has this week published two sets of regulations that introduce a series of new permitted development (PD) rights in relation to the demolition of buildings and their replacement with new housing and upward extensions to residential properties. Find out more information on these new residential permitted development rights.

(UPDATE 24.07.20)

Earlier this week, the Government published regulations to enact a raft of changes to the town centre use class system. See more information on these changes to Town Centre Use Classes.

(UPDATE 24.07.20)

General enquiries should be made through planning@wealden.gov.uk as normal. In order to ensure that you receive a response, a valid email address should be provided. A reduced post service is being sent from the Planning Service.

Case officers will be available by email, and this is the preferred method of contact. Contact by phone is still available although please bear in mind that we will be prioritising calls for the council’s critical services, and therefore we would ask that wherever possible you communicate with officers via e-mail. Officers will be able to phone you back, if required and contact details are provided.

Our twitter feed @WDC_Planning provides news, updates and information from the Planning department, though please send all messages to planning@wealden.gov.uk

We have experienced a spike in caseloads and with correspondence associated in all casework.  There maybe some delays, not least because we are entering Summer holidays where officers will be absent. Please bear with us: we are working as fast as possible to maintain our services. 

(UPDATE 24.7.20)

Our Enforcement Strategy document sets out how we operate.

Enforcement site visits will only take place for the very highest priority cases where there is a risk to life or property and only where the council is satisfied that the risk to the public through the possible further transmission of the COVID-19 disease can be avoided.

For tree works, we will process casework where it is possible to do so without a physical visit. An example might be where a tree can be wholly seen from the public realm and is not close to a building (or adjacent land) necessitating visit to consider from that viewpoint. Where we issue a tree decision without a physical visit, the case assessment will fully explain why the specific circumstances justify this approach (UPDATE: 30.4.20)

Should you have concerns over Coastal Works, Engineering and Tree Matters please contact the planning department, by e-mailing planning@wealden.gov.uk

Pre-application advice is a valuable tool in the Development Management process and the council is still able to offer the majority of these services. However, face to face meetings and planning surgeries will only be held via telephone or via video conferencing facilities. No site visits will be conducted as part of the pre-application service; however officers will be able to consider any photographs provided.

Due to their nature, Listed Building On Site advice is currently unavailable.

If you are wondering if you require planning permission for works or operations, please book one of our planning surgeries.

(UPDATE 24.7.20)

Site visits for planning applications will recommence from Monday 18 May 2020 as part of phased return from the COVID19 ‘stay at home’ advice.  This will be in an appointment only basis and where external access can be obtained to site, avoiding where possible, access through buildings.  Officers are attending to view and assess sites. They cannot enter into discussions.  There is a backlog of work, so please bear with us.

Applicants are still asked to provide comprehensive photographs of the outside and inside of a property and/or relevant views out. In order to assist with case assessments at this time the case officer may contact applicants to request photographs of particular elements of the site, and from certain vistas.

If we are unable to visit a site, we will explain the reasons why. It is likely that without a site visit, those applications will not be able to be progressed. We will consider a range of options available, including long-term extensions of time or withdrawal of the application altogether.

If you are promoting a Prior Notification case which requires liaison with adjacent residents or other publicity, and we cannot fully assess the scheme we will invite you to agree to an extension or time in order to avoid rejecting cases (UPDATE 15.5.20)

The preferred method of submission is via the Planning Portal or by e-mail if this is not possible. Applications submitted by hard copy will likely experience significant delay in processing because of the ability process incoming post to our office.

Please note cheques for application fees can no longer be processed. Payment can be made on the Planning payments  webpage.

The council’s postal services are currently operating a limited service. All representations to planning applications should be made electronically, either through the council’s online application register of applications, or by e-mail to planning@wealden.gov.uk.

Consideration of representations made solely in hardcopy cannot be guaranteed at this time.

During the COVID19 ‘stay at home’ advice, the Council’s own published protocol on the publicity of planning applications has been suspended.

Consultation has taken place with statutory consultees, via electronic means, but at the start of lockdown, no wider public consultation occurred. This has created a backlog of work and has meant a number of application have stalled awaiting public consultation.

From Monday 18 May 2020, we recommenced work on public consultation (direct letters and physical site notices displayed at or close to a site) as part of phased return to work. As noted, there was a backlog of work and it has taken some time to clear this. However, we are now up to date.

No one interested in a proposal or application has lost anytime as a result of this.  We have issued more time to those cases where the consultation period has expired during lockdown.  A further 14 days has been allowed before we will progress cases to determination.  Officers are available to discuss implications of this, as needed.

Government has introduced emergency legislation allowing the use of websites and social media to publicise applications. In light of that, where a planning application has been submitted the public will need to register against the application number, by visiting www.planning.wealden.gov.uk. In addition to searching, viewing and commenting on planning applications, the system allows you to subscribe for email updates either when the status of the application changes or new documents are added to the website – please see the our pages on Keeping up to date with Planning Applications and How You Can Be Involved In The Planning Process.

In future the Council will use these features to notify the public of changes or revisions to proposals. Registration is free although an active e-mail account is required.

Officers will need to consider whether amended plans require publicity and new amendments submitted in the current period of self-isolation may need publicity, and may therefore not be capable of being advanced to decision for the foreseeable future. Please liaise with your case officer or the relevant Area Team Leader by e-mailing planning@wealden.gov.uk.

Our twitter feed @WDC_Planning  provides news, updates and information from the Planning department, though please send all messages to planning@wealden.gov.uk.

(UPDATE 01.07.20)

Officers of the planning service will not be conducting face-to-face meetings until further notice. Officers are contactable via email and can make outgoing phone calls to any contact details provided.

The Government is clear that a well-functioning planning system is as important now as ever. Decisions and actions being taken now are vital to the District’s health, well-being and economic recovery. What we do in planning is vital to all of those objectives in the short and the long-term.

Our planning services are essential in supporting recovery, ensuring appropriate development proposals can be consented in good time to facilitate delivery on the ground. In light of that, we have taken the steps we have to enable continued operation of our planning service while maintaining the fairness, transparency and accountability that are embedded in our system.

To ensure the Council is able to continue to make effective and transparent decisions during the Covid-19 emergency, the Council has temporarily adjusted the Officer Scheme of Delegation. At present the Scheme of Delegation operates on an exceptions basis and it means certain cases automatically require a committee decision, irrespective of whether they are contentious or not. Due to the backlog of casework and increasing workloads of Planning Committees North and South, it has been agreed to review those exceptions in order to create greater capacity at what is valuable Committee time. Major or strategic applications will continue to go to Committee, as would particularly contentious cases or those where the Local Member has reserved an item (quoting valid material planning reasons). However, the smaller items (householders and minor applications) or commercial cases should now be determined through a delegated process using the emergency procedures.

This decision has been taken by the Chief Executive pursuant to his urgency powers exercisable to protect the Council’s interests and ensure compliance with statutory requirements.  The decision can be viewed on our website and will be reviewed in September 2020.

Delegated planning decisions (the significant majority) will continue to be issued electronically, where possible.   (UPDATE 08.06.20)

Due to the Government restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom, certain changes have been made to the arrangements for the Planning Committee meetings.

As a temporary measure, the Committee will be meeting remotely and may meet more frequently than the usual four weekly cycle. However, prior notice of any additional meetings will be shown on the Council’s website and in the calendar of meeting dates. The meetings will still be live streamed and viewable by the public by clicking on a link that will be provided on that particular meeting page on the website.

Unfortunately, there is a backlog of cases awaiting committee decision. This relates to both area committees though is most pressing in the South of the District. We are working hard to clear this work though priority will be given to new housing and employment floor area generating applications. We recognise that any application in important, but residential and new employment cases will assist the Council’s land supply but also the economic recovery from Covid-19.

It is possible to still register to speak on planning applications that come to Committee, however our speaking rules have been amended during this pandemic.

For more information please visit our pages on Planning Committee South or Planning Committee North.

If you have registered to speak on a committee agenda item, please note that any video file lodged must not contain drawings, images or banner around the frame of the clip. It should be a straight forward ‘piece to camera’ of no more than 2 minutes (3 minutes for major applications). Any text, video or audio file considered to contain offensive, aggressive or otherwise derogatory comments will not be accepted. (UPDATE 08.06.20)