How can planning and consultation survive the coronavirus?
We now have an ever-growing list of ways in which we can no longer communicate. Government advice warns against going into the office, attending gatherings, having conversations in close quarters, and under no circumstances should there be any shaking of hands.
So how do developers, planning consultancies and local authorities respond to new restrictions, whilst still trying to deliver planning consents?
Simply put, we must all be innovative and look to adapt to new ways of working. From BECG’s perspective, if you are in the pre-submission phase, or working through the early stages of post-submission, there is no reason why the coronavirus should cause significant delays to submission timescales. This is because you can migrate much of the consultation activity to digital forums and achieve similar consultation outputs.
We have details on exactly how to do this here, and can offer a range of options to fulfill key consultation benchmarks.
The onus is now on us as an industry to sell this approach to local authorities, who will be more focused on identifying how to maintain the delivery of critical statutory services such as adult health and social care. It is also for us as an industry to push concepts such as webinars or online meeting software for pre-application meetings, to ensure that communication remains consistent on a scheme-specific basis.
Where things get more complex is in the determination of applications. Not only will responses from key statutory stakeholders take longer to receive, it is likely that from next week, all Council meetings will cease, and if they do not, committee membership will be significantly reduced. This will be in place at least for the month of March, but likely, longer. However, the technology does exist to allow committees to carry on, and webinar software will even record and report voting records and further legislation is expected from the Government next week to support this.
Despite all of the technological innovations we have at our fingertips, the planning and development industry has been one of the most reticent to put them into practice, preferring to resort to public exhibitions in community halls, which are often poorly attended.
In order to avoid significant delays to planning programmes and the overall delivery of new homes at this uncertain time, we all must openly embrace a new way of operation and work collectively to ensure that Local Authorities also follow suit.