Planning Decisions Prioritised July-Aug 2020
Inevitably Covid-19 has impacted on our Councils’ functioning. The Coronavirus Act 2020 Section 78 (viewable online) and the National Association of Local Councils L01-20 ( search in www.nalc.gov.uk ) Regulations 2020, enable Councils to hold remote meetings, eg video and telephone conferencing, until May 7th 2021. Councils can now make their own standing orders for methods of: voting; access to documents; how remote access of the press and public by electronic means will take place. Will our local broadband strength or individual’s signal strength hold up? How many of the public own/use a mobile device or are comfortable with remote meetings? Remote meetings’ convenience will undoubtedly appeal to many but exclude others - young and old. Will mobiles’ small screens enable suitably full views of Council participants? Questions arise also of Councils’ appropriate advertising of such meetings and their ability to cancel or alter them without the requirement for further notice (Reg. 4). Basically a meeting is ‘open to the public’ if there is provision for remote (online) access.
Regarding planning applications, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) outgoing Chief Planner encourages Authorities to: “prioritise decision-making to ensure the planning system continues to function, especially where this will support the local economy. ... explore every opportunity to use technology to ensure that discussions and consultations can go ahead.... consider delegating committee decisions where appropriate. ... to work proactively with applicants and others, where necessary agreeing extended periods for making decisions.”
How quickly will ‘interested parties’ be notified? Given current visual limitations of on-line video conferencing, will social distancing be effectively achieved to enable participants’ identification during digital meetings? How will technical errors requiring eg suspension or adjournment, be managed? Will any delegation of planning decisions to eg CEOs be permissible without wider public consultation? If, procedurally, third parties are unable to be heard or to make written representations, might this make planning decisions susceptible to judicial review?
Clearly, remote meetings may not meet the statutory requirement for community participation. These new rules will make it harder for communities to share their views and schemes may be ‘nodded through’ without the usual, proper scrutiny. As our own Council considers and applies Sec 78 and NALC Regulations, the national charity for civic movement in England, Civic Voice, would like everyone to let them know their experience of their Council’s practices, whether positive, negative or innovative:
COVID-19 focusses attention on our living and working environments. High-quality green spaces within housing developments to provide social distancing and well-being have been urged as of ‘critical importance’ by Ecological Planning and Research Ltd. (Planning Portal News May 7). Where will these be on Hayling as our green spaces will be built on and the Government’s own planning rules (NPPF) demand maximum properties per development? The Government’s newly proposed ‘pop-up cycle lanes’ throughout England will also be difficult if not impossible on Hayling’s narrow roads: “Pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors will be created in England within weeks as part of a £250 million emergency active travel fund - the first stage of a £2 billion investment,” (Gov.uk Dept. of Transport Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP May 9th). Where will these be on Hayling?
If, sadly, COVID-19 does persist, will the Government’s own NPPF requirements requiring maximum properties per development have to be re-written, as tiny gardens, tightly packed- in homes will make safe social distancing extremely challenging.