Planning changes expected to aid economic recovery

The Government is lining up a raft of proposals to bring forward the reopening of pubs and restaurants in the coming weeks, while considering longer term changes to the planning system to speed up development and investment.

As part of actions to stimulate the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, the Government has been keen to encourage a return to activity during the warmer summer months.

There will be changes to planning controls to allow pubs and restaurants to set up seating in outdoor areas, and alterations to Sunday licensing restrictions to allow shops to open for longer, to encourage greater consumer spend and also make it easier for people to stagger their visits to allow for social distancing.

There had been calls across the business and planning community for changes to allow businesses to reopen safely, using outdoor spaces where the chances of infection are slim.

Last month, Jeremy Hinds, planning director of Savills, highlighted in Place North West that allowing pop-up seating in public squares “would encourage economic and social activity”.

Lockdown changes would also see the Government altering restrictions on weddings and funerals, to enable up to 10 people to meet indoors from the start of July.

The news comes as non-essential shops prepare to reopen next Monday, with social distancing restrictions in place.

There have already been some Covid-19 casualties in the restaurant and bar sector, including Lunya’s Manchester restaurant in Barton Arcade which will remain closed. The restaurant will continue to operate from its two Liverpool outlets.

There may be more planning regulation changes in the pipeline, as housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick and senior aide Dominic Cummings have established a committee to assess further changes to planning laws.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is set to reveal a mini-budget in July which is expected to include a focus on housebuilding and infrastructure spending, with fast-tracking in the planning system hoped to stimulate development and investment. This could include a zonal system where proposals in certain areas gain quick consents.

The relaxing of lockdown measures has met with a mixed reception, broadly divided between those who wish to protect jobs and get the economy moving again, and those who are concerned the rate of Covid-19 infection is still increasing too rapidly.

The Government has been criticised for a London-centric view of lockdown, by North West metro mayors Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram. London rates of infection are decreasing, while in the North West the infection rate is more than 1, meaning for every one person with the virus, more than one other person is catching it from them. The higher the number, the greater the spread of Covid-19.

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