Neil Hemington, Chief Planner at the Planning Directorate in Wales has issued a guidance letter to all planning heads in Wales setting out the current stance and approach on planning during the current Covid-19 crisis.
The letter notes that Welsh Government is considering relaxing the requirements of the pre-app PAC process in response to the current restrictions in place as a result of social distancing - removing the requirement for site notices and deposit locations will likely form the central changes here.
Developers are unable to fulfil a number of the requirements of the pre-application process. We are considering temporary amendments to the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Wales) Order 2012 (DMPWO) to remove the need for site notices and making information available for inspection at a location in the vicinity of the proposed development. Similar changes will be considered for Developments of National Significance. All pre-application publicity and consultation should be undertaken online where the option of delaying until after the current emergency is not available.
As with the approach being taken in England, any pre-application consultation that can take place, should be focused on using online methods to disseminate information, and receive feedback from local communities.
Following the cancellation of all Planning Committees, Local Authorities are being encouraged to move towards 'different ways of working' so that when additional powers/amended legislation is brought through, LPAs are well placed to be able to hold remote meetings and keep essential planning decision making going.
Planning committee meetings have been cancelled and authorities have been considering different ways of working. The Welsh Government is considering how local authorities can continue to operate and we will be looking at whether the bespoke aspects of planning committees need to be amended. Regulations are likely to come forward using the powers set out in the Coronovirus Act 2020.
Developments of National Significance:
Whilst the DNS regime is expected to continue operating 'generally, in a timely manner' during this period, there is an acknowledgement that Welsh Ministers may take the option to extend the timescales associated with any consultation or submission requirement. It is likely that in the interim at least, there will be delays as Ministers, LPAs and developers work out how to progress applications under current operational restrictions.
LPAs may not be able to respond to requests to submit Local Impact Reports or participate in the consideration of Developments of National Significance (“DNS”) applications, generally, in a timely manner. DNS procedures enable the Welsh Ministers to extend the timescales associated with any consultation or submission requirement, and the Planning Inspectorate shall exercise those powers appropriately upon request. Where such an extension is granted and likely to take the application beyond the 36 week timescale within which the DNS application must be determined, the Welsh Ministers will suspend the 36 week determination period.
This is clearly a time of significant upheaval and disruption for the planning processes across the country, and we are currently in a period of flux whilst everyone adapts to the current restrictions on everyday life. More changes to guidance and legislation will be forthcoming as we all move towards a more remote, digital way of working, however the importance of a well planned approach to planning, pre-application consultation and stakeholder engagement is key.
Thirty4/7 Communications is well placed to assist developers with devising Covid-19 era planning communications that meet requirements through its online and digital consultation capabilities, and, most importantly at this time, retain a human touch.