Councils across the region continue to halt planning meetings in line with social distancing measures, and are calling for updated advice on whether to decide applications through other means including delegated powers.
Last week, secretary of state for local government Robert Jenrick chaired a call with 300 council leaders where he confirmed the government “will consider bringing forward legislation to to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period.”
The planning white paper, which is set to be published this spring, is expected answer some of the questions currently being asked by local authorities and the property sector about how to navigate planning in this climate.
As it stands, planning applications can be determined by policy officers under delegated powers when no objections have been received. In these cases, planning officers make their own decisions on the application without needing the application to be considered by a planning committee.
Liverpool City Council is currently making decisions on planning applications through delegated powers, and is awaiting the Government’s white paper which is due in spring for further guidance on further planning resolutions.
Manchester City Council continues to take its meetings on a week by week basis, and will decide which are to go ahead, also dependent on Government advice.
A representative from the council said that the full council meeting is going ahead on Wednesday 25 March with core members only to give them the opportunity to spread out across the council chambers. The executive meeting is also due to take place, but the council stated there will be “inevitable changes to come”.
Other councils are cancelling meetings with further information to be detailed at a later stage on how they will decide on planning applications currently in the pipeline.
This leaves many planning applications in limbo across the North West as it is uncertain when, or even if, they will be decided upon.
Bury Council at first said it would go ahead with its planning committee in a larger room to provide more space for social distancing, but has since decided to postpone its meeting until further notice.
Meanwhile in Preston, a statement from Adrian Phillips, chief executive of Preston City Council, said: “In light of the national advice regarding COVID19 we’ve taken the decision to cancel the planning committee meeting on Thursday 2 April 2020 to limit the spread of the virus. This was done with the safety and wellbeing of the public as well as our staff and members in mind.
“We are communicating with applicants and will provide more information when we can. Local government across the country is redeploying members of staff to ensure the continued delivery of key services to meet the needs of the community, which has an impact on our ability to deliver business as usual.”
Cheshire East Council has cancelled all meetings up to 1 April, including its strategic planning meeting on Wednesday. A spokesperson from the council said that all meetings will be subject to change and a lot of meetings are going to be suspended but that this will be updated on the council’s website as and when the changes have been made.
Warrington has made changes to some face-to-face services and public meetings in light of the coronavirus. The only meetings to take place until the end of its civic year on 25 May is the council’s cabinet meeting on 6 April, the development and management committee meetings on 1 April and 22 April, and the scrutiny committee and licensing committee if they are required.
The full council meeting today was cancelled and essential business will be deferred to a future meeting or “dealt with in an alternative way”, the council said in a statement posted to its website.
Leader of Warrington Council, Cllr Russ Bowden, said: “As the outbreak of coronavirus progresses, services will be disrupted for the foreseeable future.
“We are in uncharted territory and must respond appropriately to this developing situation. We will ensure that the necessary meetings proceed either through digital means or by appropriate social distancing.”
Some planning committee meetings have gone ahead, and others are still set to take place, with changes made to reflect government advice on social distancing.
Wirral Council’s planning committee last Thursday went ahead with some changes, included a stripped down agenda, with two schemes decided under delegated powers, and three deferred. A decision on future meetings has yet to be made.
Two housing schemes were approved, including the Sovini Group with Carrol Build’s application for 61 homes designed by Condy Lofthouse Architects on the site of the former Dell Primary School.
The other was Bellway’s reserved matters application for 257 homes on the site of Burton Foods’ biscuit factory off Pasture Road in Moreton.
Trafford is still to go ahead with its scheduled meetings, however a representative of the council said that this will be updated on a daily basis.