It feels like the first week that strategic planning is really up and running again.
The Planning Inspectorate has said at least 20 appeal hearings, inquiries and local plan examinations will be held digitally over the next two months following successful virtual hearings being completed last week.
Most local authorities across the country have confronted the new reality as well, and the first weeks of May have seen a steady stream of virtual planning committees taking place.
MHCLG have even started taking decisions on appeal hearings, and last week we saw Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, allow an appeal for a 500-home scheme in the green belt.
But there are still a few frustrating exceptions to progress. Some councils have been alarmingly slow off the mark despite it being a full month since new powers came into force allowing them to hold meetings virtually by using video or telephone conferencing technology.
These delays are clearly going to have an impact on casework backlogs and planning applications, but there’s even more serious long–term implications when it comes to strategic planning and local plan making.
Councils will have to hit Robert Jenrick’s new December 2023 deadline to have their plan in place – the date revealed in the recent ‘Planning for the Future’ paper. Only 43% of councils actually have an up to date local plan adopted in the last five years, according to the latest statistics from PINS, so there are a lot of councils who are going to have to work fast.
If they do not hit that deadline, Robert Jenrick has said Government will ‘prepare to intervene’. We’ve been here before with 15 local authorities including Brentwood, Liverpool, Wirral, Castle Point and Runnymede previously threatened with MHCLG intervention in recent years, but it was never carried through.
But it looks like MHCLG may be determined to take action this time. South Oxfordshire have been given until the end of the year to finally adopt their local plan, and the new guidance to allow councils to amend their Statement of Community Involvement to use “virtual exhibitions, digital consultations, video conferencing, social media” to involve residents offers a very sensible carrot alongside the stick of intervention.
These measures will help push strategic planning along if there is the political will to do so, alongside the understanding of how to use digital tools like virtual consultations and social media to their best use.
BECG’s webinar this week will look at how we can do that effectively and keep up the momentum. We’ll be joined by two guests who know a thing or two about strategic planning: Stephen Kinsella, Chief Land & Development Officer at Homes England, and Councillor Paul Spooner, l the former Leader of Guildford Borough Council. I hope you can join us.
To find out more about the services we offer, or to send your questions in to our panel, email Daniel Fryd.