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.

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)

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 as no post is now 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 (UPDATE 15.5.20)

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. We are introducing video conferencing facilities and will update on this matter in due course. 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.

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 (opens in a new window) 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 no wider public consultation has 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 will recommence work on public consultation (direct letters and physical site notices) as part of phased return to work. As noted, there is a backlog of work and it will take some time to clear this. Please bear with us. We apologise for the delays this will cause in making planning decisions, but hope the need for these measures are understandable at this time. Officers are available to discuss implications of this, as needed.

Government has also 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 15.5.20)

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.

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

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.

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 15.5.20)